Posted tagged ‘Fathers and Sons’

what’s in a name?

July 11, 2016

My Fathers and Sons story “The Death of Superman” has been accepted for an upcoming anthology. I’d already blathered about this in an earlier post. And so it is in an odd place that I find myself because I want to change the title of the story.

True confession: I was never really in love with that title. The idea was that the narrator considered his father to be a superman. A giant. A hero. And that much is true. But in the evolution of the story, I had changed it from a first person narrator to third person. And no one actually dies in the story. And the pop culture reference might misdirect or confuse eventual readers. And, honestly, I’m not sure I can actually use the title: is it copyrighted?

So I’ve stumbled on a new title that is more fitting and in the public domain: “where late the sweet birds sang.” You will, of course, immediately recognize that as coming from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, where he speaks of the “bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” He’s speaking, literally of autumn in the forest with all of the singing birds gone and metaphorically of the passing of youth, the approach of death, and all of that. (The next story in the cycle, “Twice Blest,” takes its title from The Merchant of Venice, so there’s that.)

In my story the no-longer-young main character is at the family cabin in the forest, lamenting the fading of his father from the vigorous man he once was. His father is in the late autumn of his life, and the son is past the vigor of his own youth. Plus, completely coincidentally, birdsong has played an important part in many of the subsequent stories. They were written before I had this realization of the better title, but I saw the fit instantly.

I’ve written to the editor who is publishing the anthology, asking if it is too late to change the title. No response yet, and if it goes to press with the prior title, that will be fine. But going forward, I will use the new title. In the eventual (and inevitable) publication of the entire cycle, it will carry that new title as well. Most of the already-published F&S stories have been altered since publication, so there’s that, too.

Update 13SEP2016 – The editor wrote back saying he would use the new title, so there’s that, too.

my one-match fire went out!

July 1, 2016

one-match fire

I said in my last post that although there are plenty of stories I could still write for my Fathers and Sons cycle, I was only going to do one more. It was to be called “One-match fire” and it would have filled in some gaps in the narrative. But the more I thought about the characters in the stories and how the events I wanted to describe would take place, I realized the characters would have been much younger than they needed to be to have the events occur during the gaps. Each father was going to teach his son how to build a one-match fire — twenty years apart. But I needed tweener sons, and this kind of skill in this kind of family would have been handed down to a son much sooner than his tween years.

Yet I can still draw some warmth from this fire because I can use it in two different existing stories. One would be a flashback within “Men at Rest,” and the other would be an example of the very theme of the other story “Meet the Teacher Night.” (That latter story I’ve thought as the weakest of the bunch, but this little thematic addition will help.)

And the fire you see in the photo above is an actual one-match fire I built and cooked my dinner over (probably hot dogs). It’s out at my little cabin in the Ozarks, which was the impetus for the original Fathers and Sons story.

Update 01AUG2016 – I am now working on this story I’d abandoned, though I’m calling it “A Tree Falls in the Forest” instead. And there won’t be anything about building a fire, at least nothing thematic. But the tweener business will be in it.

rewrite of first F&S story

March 28, 2016

Well, I’ve gotten down a first draft of the first rewrite of my first F&S story, “The Death of Superman.” I’ve recast if from a first-person narrator to third person. This involved more than just changing “I said” to “He said” since it opened opportunities for the new narrator to have an influence (while closing at least partially the first-person narrator from being reflective). Obviously, it still needs work, and I’ll read through it plenty of times before I consider it finished.

And I learned that despite having read the first-person draft literally dozens of times over the years, I still missed some glaring errors. Somewhere through the course of the years this story has existed, I moved it in time from a springtime visit to the family cabin to a November visit. This was partly thematic since the thoughts and emotions of the main character are in large part dealing with his father who is in the late autumn of his own life. But I also needed the main character to slip into one of his father’s old flannel shirts (flannel shirts being the “uniform” of these men across the cycle) while visiting the cabin, so I needed it to be a cool day. So at some point I moved the story into November, yet during my rewrite I found two old references to him making a springtime visit. Oops!

There were some other updates as well. I didn’t even think to consider, until I did the rewrite, that phrases like “tree tops” and “wood smoke” are actually single words when used as nouns. (In general, shorter word count in a submission is a good thing, and always, the right word in the right place is the best thing.)

I’ve noted here before that I can often catch overlooked errors when I take my laptop to the library and read through my stuff. The change in setting actually helps me see it all differently, with a more objective eye. So too with rewriting with a different narrator it seems.

Anyway, the comprehensive rewrite is now underway, and that’s a good feeling.

I guess it begins

March 25, 2016

All plans are provisional. Certainly in the wooly, haphazard discipline that is creative writing. My plan had been to devote a few more weeks to refining “Little Gray Birds,” the keystone, capstone, and cornerstone of my Fathers and Sons cycle, and then go back over all of them to make a comprehensive rewrite of each to integrate them more fully and pull the parts into a whole.

And I will do that, only I’m beginning sooner than I expected.

I am always on the prowl for possible venues for my stories. I visit a few sites online that have calls for submissions, and while most of them are opaque because I am usually not familiar with the journal, some list themes they are soliciting for. And that makes them a little more likely because I can see if the story I have ready matches the theme (or can be spun to appear to match it — which has worked more than I would have expected). And so I found one for an upcoming anthology with a theme that I thought was perfect for my F&S story “The Death of Superman.” The trouble was, when I visited the site, I found that their existing anthologies were crime noir and horror, which didn’t look like a fit after all. My stuff carries the pretense of being literary rather than of a genre. But I was intrigued, so I wrote the editor and described my story a little, asking if it could possibly be what the mag was looking for. After a few weeks, after I’d given up thinking I would get a response, the editor wrote back and said the story sounded exactly like what they were seeking.

And so I had found a likely target for “Superman,” which I’ve always been surprised hadn’t found a home yet. I’ve sent it out much in the past, and I really think it is a good bit of writing with two well-presented characters (one present, one in memory), but it never found acceptance. This time it looks as though it has a better chance.


I need to rewrite it. The story, as it exists, is told by a first-person narrator, and it works well that way. But that comprehensive rewrite I want to do will require it to be told in third person. I’ve decided to do that before I send it off to see if the second version is “better” than the first. Better being relative, of course, and perhaps “final” is more correct. Once I have both versions before me, I can decide which I would rather set loose in the wild. Fortunately, the submission deadline for this themed anthology is in August, so I have plenty of time to write the rewrite. (Long-time readers — both of them — may recall that I had written an entire novel in first person before realizing right at the end that it had to be told in third person. I rewrote that beast and had a better novel, which actually got some nibbles from a few agents before the forces of entropy assaulted my ambition and I set it aside. Just as well. Had that been a success at that time, I don’t think I ever would have become the person who could write the Fathers and Sons cycle. Still, I’m a practiced hand at rewriting from first to third.)

So I’ve created a new subfolder on my drive. I’ll put the rewrites there and let them accumulate. And the first one I will do is the first one I ever wrote and the first one in the cycle (though not first in chronology, but it sets up a tension that spans all of the stories). I’ve printed the story on actual paper and I will work from that, transcribing directly into the new file in the new directory. (When I had rewritten that novel, I had two laptops open on the desk before me, reading from one and writing to the other. It was clumsy, and I had to make sure one of the laptops was not online since Microsoft could tell that two identically licensed incarnations of Word were being used and, technically, that wasn’t allowed — though I think it was since both computers were mine and I had paid for the software, but their bots didn’t know that as they scanned the web looking for possible infractions). Thus the paper copy, which is probably better for me anyway. For me, writing isn’t about technology, and while a computer takes a lot of the drudgery out of writing, it still goes on mostly inside my head. The paper document just seems more pleasing.

And so I’m begun on my project sooner than expected, but why not?

“The Most Natural Thing in the World” is now up at MOON Magazine

May 5, 2014

My latest Fathers and Sons story, “The Most Natural Thing in the World”, is now up at The MOON Magazine. Hop on over there if you care to and give it a read. I’m especially interested in what you think of this one. You can leave a comment there, or you can post one here. Or not. Up to you.

A lot is happening in the background of this story. A significant character development is beginning to be expressed here, one that will affect the father and son dynamic of the subsequent stories.

A word of caution, however. When you go to that link, you’re going to get smacked in the face with my face. I hope you don’t turn to stone or anything when you see it. (That photo was taken on the day I ran my second 5K. What a neophyte I was!)

I hope you like the story.

Trolley Run at work and play

April 28, 2014

One of my Fathers and Sons stories, called “Runaway”, is set during the Trolley Run, an annual event here in Kansas City for 26 years, um, running. I ran it last year, and I ran it again this year on Sunday. Before I bore you with my account of it below, I wanted to tell you that I considered running it pure research for my story. Granted, the story was finished last fall, and I’ve even been sending it out to a few places. But I was glad to run the race again just to gather whatever little details I might to add to the tale and the telling.

In my story, the son, Curt, is beginning to grow apart from his father. He’s about 11 years old, and that’s natural enuf, but the father, David (whom you’ve met in “The Lonely Road” and “Men at work and play” and the soon-to-appear “The Most Natural Thing in the World” as well as “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” if you happened to catch it for the week or two the magazine allowed it to be online) is feeling the separation keenly even as he sees it as healthy and inevitable (and in part of his own doing). So I combined work and play, but on with the play by play:

*   *   *

I had really wanted to have a good experience this year at the Trolley Run. Last year, when I ran it for the first time, I was pleased with my performance. But I hoped in the time since then that I had gotten a little better and would turn in some “impressive” numbers.

I assumed I was fully recovered from the half marathon I did two weekends ago, though I had been running less in the subsequent days. I guess I was eager to find out of if my reduced training would help or hinder my performance on the four easy, downhill miles of the Trolley Run.

Unlike most runs, I got to the start with only an hour before it was to begin. That’s cutting it close for someone with as much pre-race anxiety as I have. But I immediately ran into some friends from the running club, and as I wandered around, I met more. City busses were pulling up constantly, disgorging runners who had parked at the finish and were being shuttled to the start. I understand there were about 10,000 runners and walkers this year, which is even more than last year. I suppose I was lucky to see anyone I knew but I’m glad I did.

I was afraid my luck would be thwarted, however, by the gathering clouds in the sky. It was nearly 70 degrees at 7:00 that morning, and the benevolent sun was shining on all of us, but a storm was rushing in from the west. The forecast estimated it would reach the city by around 10:00, and even if I walked, I’d be finished before then. It looked as though the storm had other plans, however, and was eager to be at the start of the race with the rest of us. The sky to the west was filled with dark clouds and they were getting closer every minute.

I was in the green wave once again, the third group to start. The first wave was to start at 7:45, but according to my watch, they were let out of the gate several minutes early. (Maybe I wasn’t the only one watching the sky.) By the time my wave was shuffled to the start, we were only a few minutes past the official start time. The small gang of friends I was with at the start all wished each other a good run. We would run at different paces, so we wouldn’t see each other again until the finish. I got my watch to find some satellites, and after a moment, I was across the starting mats and on my way.

Too fast.

As I said, I wanted to have a good run, but that meant marshaling my energy so that I could sustain it across even the comparatively short distance of four (downhill) miles. I made the mistake, there at the start, of looking at my watch and seeing the pace I was running. Much, much too fast. A lot of runners start out too fast because the whole pack is surging around them. I knew I would burn out quickly if I kept going at that pace (which didn’t really feel fast to me at the time). So I tried to throttle back. I did not look at the pace my watch reported but merely trotted along at what I felt I could sustain. And after a few turns and elbows in the ribs (the pack was dense for about two-thirds of this run) I reached the first mile marker. Of course I was already trying to negotiate with my rational self for a short walking rest because my lungs were really pretty angry with me. They say you should always be able to carry on a conversation while running and that if you can’t, you’re going too fast. I couldn’t at that point, but it was only because my lungs were monopolizing the conversation. I’d had a chest cold several weeks back. In fact, I was in the last stages of it when I ran that half marathon two weeks ago. I suspected I was not fully over it because I was breathing harder than I thought I should be at that point.

At mile two the first water stop loomed before us. I was running down the middle of the road (less slope there to avoid potential knee or hip ache) and had to cut over quickly to grab a cup. I try to be charitable in my assessments of other people’s efforts, especially those of volunteers. But I have to say the water stations on this run were terrible. Perhaps they were unprepared for the number of runners. Or maybe those of us in the middle of the pack were coming along a little late. But they didn’t have enuf cups filled (though they were frantically trying to) and wound up just handing us the bottles of water intended for filling the paper cups. This is problematic for two reasons. One, even an eight-ounce bottle of water is too much to drink on the run. So then you have the half-filled bottle to carry along with you. Or, two, you take a couple of sips and then throw the bottle, mostly still filled with water, down on the ground. That’s what I did. As had hundreds of others. So there were plastic bottles in the road that our fleet feet had to race across. (I had thrown my bottle to the curb.) Something similar had happened to me on the St. Patrick’s Day run when they served (too much) water in large plastic cups that then littered the ground beneath our feet. Because road hazards. I didn’t even slow down at the second water station on the Trolley Run.

All the while, my lungs were screaming at me to STOP THIS INSTANT! By this point I was on the true downhill stretch of the course, a straightaway before the last turn to the finish arch — my absolute favorite finish stretch in the city. I wasn’t about to stop, and I had more or less vowed to open up on this stretch and maybe grab a fast enuf mile to beat my performance last year. Except I didn’t have anything left in me to open up the run. I just plodded ahead, throwing one foot in front of the other and, curiously, continuing to pass people.

When I finished the long straightaway and turned toward the finish arch perhaps a quarter mile ahead, something clicked and I did manage to pick up the pace a little. I’m sure I looked ragged. I felt ragged. I knew that there were photographers in the area, and I didn’t want to look the way I felt, but by then it was all about finishing the run as well as I could regardless of how I looked. So I threw my mouth open, threw my feet before me, and threw everything I had left into the run. The cheering crowds. The gentle downhill straightaway to the finish. The delicious delirium of being within reach.

And then I crossed the finish mats and switched off my watch. I was panting, but I wasn’t about to spiral to the ground or empty my empty stomach. I was done, and my lungs were grateful. The chute after the finish was crowded (just like last year — ugh!), but I managed to get the timing sensor clipped from my shoe, and then I went in search of chocolate milk. My wife and son found me, and we pushed our way through the crowd to the party booths beyond. One bottle of Propel (not too bad), one slice of pizza, one whole wheat roll, and four blessed, blessed bottles of chocolate milk later, and I was ready to go. I met some of my running friends and we shared high fives. But I was beat.

I had really wanted to have a good run this year. But I did not. I had a GREAT run this year. The reason my lungs were so angry was because I had run — and sustained — a very fast pace for my ability. I had shaved four minutes off of my time from last year. I ran faster for longer than I ever have. And I beat the rain.

So I’ve had a good Rock the Parkway half marathon and two weeks later a good Trolley Run. Seems like I’m going to have to keep this up now.

runaway writing

May 6, 2013

Last summer, when I ran my first 5K, I knew (as I was plodding along, surprised at myself) that I would somehow incorporate running into one of my Fathers and Sons stories. I wasn’t sure just how at the time, but I realized that this sport was going to take up a large part of my life, and I figured I ought to put the experience to work.

Fast forward to April. I completed the Trolley Run in Kansas City last month, and I finally felt I was ready to begin that running story. Now, there are a couple of things you need to know. First, unless a plot bursts fully formed in my mind (and I’m not sure that has ever happened), I tend to “accumulate” a story in pieces. Images present themselves. Bits of dialog. A theme that seems worthy of developing. I collect these bits and copy them into a file that seems suitable until the story itself begins to gel. When I reach some intangible tipping point, I generally start writing the first draft of the story, knowing that it will evolve from there, sometimes in far different directions than I ever imagined.

The second point is that the Trolley Run was a watershed for me in many ways. When I first began trotting around the dog park with my Border Collie a year ago, I couldn’t conceive the notion that I could run a quarter mile, much less the 3.1 miles of an entire 5K. But I thought that if I stuck with it, pushed myself farther, and kept my eyes on a goal, maybe, just maybe, I could do it. I set the Trolley Run this year as my goal. (I didn’t know at the time that it was 4 miles long, longer than a regular 5K.)

The running story continued to accumulate, and the general outline of the plot revealed itself to me. Basically, a son it taking up running, which is an activity his father doesn’t share, and though this is a good thing in general, it becomes another thing that divides the two. (My working title right now is “Runaway” with multiple possible meanings, of course.) I thought that the Trolley Run, which is an annual event of some renown here in Kansas City, would be a good setting for my running story. Thus I had to wait until I had done the Trolley Run before I began the story in earnest.

Well, I completed the Trolley Run, and last weekend I started on the story. Even though I’ve done a half dozen 5Ks and three 10Ks, and even though my afternoon runs are generally far longer than 4 miles, the Trolley Run had become my psychological barrier. Because it was the goal I had set for myself a year ago, it was far more meaningful for me to complete than any of the other runs I’ve done. Well, I burst through that barrier (at a pretty decent pace for my ability, even setting a PR), and while I’m not sure that’s given me any insight to my story, it’s given me the raw, real-world material I needed.

I had reached the tipping point. As I said, I started on “Runaway” over the weekend, and I think I made pretty good progress on it. I’ve mentioned here before that I really need to devote some effort to working out the timeline of these stories. Three generations of men, spanning a lot of years, but so many of the stories are particular moments in their lives, not sweeping themes. How old is the central character in each story? When was he born? When does it have to take place so that subsequent (and prior) moments fall in line properly? Does it make sense that he is this or that age when this or that happens? And so on.

Right now, I can write most of these stories without obsessing too much over that. But someone needs to tell me to buckle down and work out the timeline.

(I’m training now to run a half marathon in October. It’s my new psychological barrier. Yikes!)

“The Lonely Road”

March 4, 2013

And then, out of the blue, the acceptance came!

Over the weekend an email popped up in my box from Penduline Press. They’ve accepted my story “The Lonely Road” and it will be coming up on their site later this month!

I’m proud of this story. I think it may be the best realized of my Fathers and Sons stories. It’s one of those that I read through and can’t think of a single word I would change. Penduline Press had put out a call for stories with a theme of “Bound.” While I think themes can be helpful for targeting submissions, they are also generally vague enough to let anything or nothing apply. My story features a character who is struggling with some of the bonds in his life — at least that’s how I pitched it. And I guess the editors saw it that way too. This is the first of my Fathers and Sons stories to see print.

The stories in this cycle, however, have all been evolving as I’ve come to understand the universe they’re set in, so occasionally I will tinker with this or that detail in one of them to make it comply with the back story or some future event or character development or whatever. In a way, I imagine that whatever I’ve had to say about that universe in “The Lonely Road” is now carved in stone since it’s (going to be) in print. So it becomes the stillpoint in that universe, and however I tell the stories going forward will have to comply with whatever I’ve said in this story. Or not. I suppose I’m over stressing this.

I spent a good deal of time withdrawing the story from simultaneous submissions elsewhere. I hadn’t realized how many places I’d sent it.

Once the story is up, I’ll post a link.

two submissions – one journal

August 29, 2012

I was cruising the submission calendar at Duotrope’s Digest the other day and came across a recent new entry looking for pieces dealing with “innocence and experience.” I immediately thought of two of my Fathers and Sons stories, so I submitted both of them.

The last time I did this was to a speculative fiction anthology, and the editor said he liked both pieces but would use only one. I chose the one I thought less likely to be published elsewhere and kept the one I thought would be more successfully submitted. The one I kept still hasn’t seen publication after several years of effort. Perhaps I made the wrong choice way back then.

In the case of my Fathers and Sons submissions, I really think both are good and have realistic chances at seeing publication, if not in this journal then in another. The submission guidelines at the magazine were a bit imprecise. It didn’t actually say I could not submit two pieces. It only said that prose submissions couldn’t exceed ten pages. Well, one of them is seven pages, and the other is nine pages. So, technically, I think I am okay. Whether the editors are miffed by my multiple submission or not, I don’t know.

When I reported my submission on Duotrope, it gave me a warning that the publication had not reported that it would accept multiple submissions. Well, I’ll wait and see. The deadline is September 30, and each of my two stories is submitted elsewhere. Should one be accepted before then, I can withdraw it from consideration at this new mag and just have the single submission.

a moment in time

July 13, 2012

So I’ve written a pretty good first draft of one of my Fathers and Sons stories. The current title is “Flowers that bloom in the fall” though it’s earlier name was “How is my beloved this morning?” (They both make sense in context.) It would be the very first one in the chronology of the stories, which means it is set in September of 1968. (Some of you gentle readers weren’t even born when it is set!)

I read it to my wife last night, and she gave me her usual useful and scathing comments, and I’ll make numerous changes as a result.

But the question that lingers is how I could, or whether I should, try to set it in time. Should I put any effort into letting reader know the story was set more than 40 years ago?

The story stands on its own without that information. And read on its own, you really don’t need to know that detail to appreciate what is going on (and what is going on? one of the characters knows!). Read as part of the cycle (remember, the inevitable collection it will be a part of?), you would understand sufficiently when the story is set.

But I really don’t see any need to get specific about the time of the story. Given the tone (playful and a bit mysterious) I think something as specific as that would be intrusive. Plus, without a date stamp on it, the story becomes more timeless, more current to contemporary readers. Really, aside from its placement in the cycle, the date of the story is not important.

So what do you think? Is there any point in cramming this kind of really-not-so-important detail into the story?