Short Stories – Male of the Species

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Male of the Species by Alex Mindt (2007) – This book was recommended to me by my daughter, who is a wonderful writer and has a wide range of reading.  I will admit to kind of dragging my feet on this one. If all the recommendations were as good as this one I’d break this habit in a minute.

Alex Mindt is a gifted writer working in what many people believe is the hardest writing category there is – the short story.  This collection focuses on relationships with our fathers.  In eleven stories he takes to an astounding cross-section of humanity.    They criss cross our nation and our experience of family.

As I prepared to write this I thought about which was my favorite, which spoke to me most deeply.  As I reviewed the stories I realized I couldn’t choose any one, or even a couple.  Each story is a jewel, infinite in wonder.  For the purposes of the review, I have picked out several that stayed with me the longest.  But you could include any story on that list.

These characters have richness and depth.  The stories are simple but filled with complex emotion.  This is a book that you can read again and again and again.

  • Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories
    • Sabor a Mí
    • Reception
    • Ruby
    • An Artist at Work
    • Male of the Species
    • King of America
    • Stories of the Hunt
    • Free Spirits
    • The Gypsy
    • Immigration
    • Karrooo

My favorites here are:

  • King of America – Vietnamese immigrants trying to find their vision of the American Dream
  • Male of the Species – A small town teacher who is willing to do what he believes is right no matter what
  •  An Artist at Work – The story of a son who is a complete puzzle to his father
  • Karroo – A daughter trying to find her way back to a father with dementia

Don’t wait as long as I did to read this collection!

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Adventures in Cycling – Night Riders

I was really excited that the cycling season would start in March this year. It could have begun in February, but my schedule and the weather never quite matched.  In the end, I managed only a single ride in March.  It was a nice “breaking the ice” ride.  Unfortunately, the weather has been a rollercoaster since then.  Since I do not ride below 50 degrees or in the rain or windy conditions, I spent a fair bit of time inside looking out at the world.  The weather and my schedule just wouldn’t cooperate.

April is off to another slow start, although the forecast just got much better.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

So the count for 2018(to date) is 6.62 miles, 38:29 riding time.

Both bike and rider are in need of some repair and polish.  At some point two weeks ago, I did something that resulted in back spasms.  KO-ed me for the entire week of spring break.  My trusty steed, known affectionately as “Barney”, really needs a serious maintenance, but that’s not in the cards at the moment. Gave him the quick once-over before the March ride and he looks fine. A new phone clamp has been added and will be a HUGE improvement over last year.

I’ve been doing more evening driving recently. Richmond is a great cycling city. If I weren’t such a wimp, I could be on the bike almost all year. But I don’t do cold or wet. And only crazy people bicycle in the snow.

What I have noticed has to do with after dark riding. I see a lot of bikers in the evening. Two things jump out at me. First, it is even more important to observe the traffic laws at night. Blowing through stop signs and lights, changing lanes without signaling, and other all too common habits are bad enough in the daylight. I see people doing it at night which is just insane. Bad riding practices make all of us look bad and put us at risk. We need to be smarter.

Which brings me to my second point. Why are our lights so small? Look around at any other vehicle on the road. Well lit with large, obvious lights. Now, look at your average bicycle. If they have lights, they’re usually the size of a single Christmas light. It’s better if they flash, but as a driver (and one attentive to cyclists) they are still easy to overlook.

I’m not sure why we are willing to settle for this. Is it a leftover from racing? Most of us don’t race. Is it just not cool? Cyclists can be prone to this kind of thinking. It’s all silly. There are new technologies like lit helmets and other LED devices that can offer larger, brighter lighting without a significant weight penalty. I’ll take visible and safe over cool and injured any day.

My plan doesn’t include much, if any, after dark riding. But there’s plenty of after dark driving coming. I want to make sure that we all get to where we want to go safely.

I’m hoping for a long season of riding in 2018!

Writing – Works In Progress

WIP.  You’ll find this commonly used on writer’s forums and other online gathering places.  It means “Works in Progress”.  For many of us (I never say “all” because the universe of writing practice is very diverse), ideas don’t come in single file, patiently waiting to be created.  The ideas crowd in, demanding attention right this instant.  Too often if I don’t pay enough attention, they will storm off in a huff.  There are more than a few instances of me remembering that I had a really great idea for a story, but had no idea what it was.  So you have to pay attention.

This also means that you end up working on more than one idea at a time. Don’t know if that comes as a surprise to anyone outside the writing world. The path from idea to finished product is filled with side tracks through other lands and stories.

A quick scan through some online groups reveals that many/most of us seem to have more than one project going on.

So, what’s on my plate right now? Technically, I have three novels underway. None of them are getting the attention they deserve. Their titles, at the moment, are:

  • Today is Odd (originally “Catching Fire and Flying Through the Air”. Still undecided on this.) – a story based on my time as a substitute teacher. Think “Up the Down Staircase”.
  • Two Guys, One Dies – a murder mystery in parallel. Draws on my careers in both radio and youth ministry.  Two tracks to the story, in each one a different guy dies and the other one investigates.  This idea developed because I had two great ideas and couldn’t decide between them.  So I didn’t.  This is extremely complicated storytelling.
  • The Hidden Race – a thriller (I think) that centers on a secret society that is quietly directing much of the world. Think Dan Brown.

Those are the “big” projects. There are usually a short story or two in some stage of development. Plus all these blog posts. (I write regularly on two blogs, The View From The Phlipside and this one.) I need to average about three posts a week to stay on track, sometimes four. Plus three radio programs a week, that are then turned into a weekly podcast.

Finding the balance between the more immediate projects (blogs and radio) and the long term is tough. I want to create quality work for all of them, my emotional investment is much deeper on the long-term projects. So, I just keep working away.

Are you writing?  How many WIP do you have going?  Tell me in the comments!

Peace

JD

A Life In Faith and the Posture of Prayer

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

(Before the notes come flocking in, I am well aware that kneeling is problematic for some folks.  They simply can’t do it.  Most of us can.  I ask only that, if you are able, you consider if you should.)

Sit. Stand. Kneel.

It is a dance during worship.  Assuming the posture that moves the worshipper toward the appropriate mindset for that moment in the service.  In the Episcopal church, we traditionally add a little juggling to make the dance more intricate.  Controlling a Book of Common Prayer (BCP), a hymnal and the bulletin is a skill that takes years to perfect.   It’s probably a good thing that we have begun to move away from that complication in our worship life.

I was not always conscious of that dance.  I simply went along with whatever was being done by the rest of the congregation.  When I began to think about my life in faith, and especially about prayer, the value of those positions began to crystallize for me.

Sitting is the base position for worship.  We sit while we hear the sermon and the lessons. It is a position of waiting and a position for hearing teaching.

Standing is a position for proclaiming our faith, and hearing the Gospel.   It’s also an old-school way of showing respect. We also stand when we sing.  Because that’s just good sense.

Kneeling is a position of humbleness and submission.

When I moved to Richmond, the one thing that surprised me the most about the worship in the Episcopal churches I visited was that almost no one kneels.  That varies a bit based on the congregation, but the amount of kneeling is very much lower than what I have been accustomed to over my life.

There are a variety of places where we are given the option to stand or kneel.  The default here seems to be always standing.  It strikes me as a loss to the worship.  Eliminating a whole category of the dance of worship feels wrong to me.

The one place that it really strikes me is at the Confession.  I was a bit surprised when I looked at the BCP and realized that there is no instruction (the technical term would be a “rubric”) concerning what position we should adopt for confessing.  It does note that after the confession the Bishop or Priest stands to offer the Absolution, so it seems to assume that at least they are in a position other than standing.

In the 1928 BCP and in the Rite 1 service the invitation to confession says, “Let us humbly confess…”  It strikes me that if we are “humbly confessing” the things we have done that fall short of the expectations of the Divine, then we ought to be on our knees.

It was awkward when I was on a congregational staff to be the only person in the congregation who went to their knees.  It was not a visual that I thought useful, especially as the “new guy” on the ministry team.  When my place of worship changed, I struggled for a while since almost no one knelt either.  It really shouldn’t matter whether I’m alone in this piety or not, I suppose, but it was nice to see a couple other folks who choose to kneel at that part of the service.

In the end, this is mostly a matter of tradition.  Just as Article XXVI of the Articles of Religion (an historic document from the beginning of our American version of the Anglican tradition) states that the unworthiness of the minister does not nullify the effect of the Eucharist, my bet is that the position of the worshipper doesn’t negate God’s ability to hear our prayers.  The rest of it falls under the category of “personal piety”.

At the same time, the dance of worship can offer a physical reminder and representation of what we are trying to do.  A reminder to humble ourselves strikes me as a valuable piece of a life in faith.  Spending a little time on our knees isn’t a bad practice for the whole church, I think.

Peace

J

 

Writing – Write Them Down!

I came across an interesting challenge a couple months ago.

It said every writer should try working in six different writing forms.  The idea was that we should challenge ourselves.

To stretch creatively by stepping outside of our usual forms.

If memory serves it showed up in a forum that focused mostly on long-form writing, which would explain the choices.  They are:

  • Poetry
  • Six Word Story
  • Flash Fiction (50-1k words)
  • Short Story
  • News Article
  • Opinion Piece

I’m always up for a creative challenge, so let’s give it a try.

The fourth one doesn’t qualify for me since I’m a dedicated short story writer.  So we’ll take last month’s writing piece as our contribution for that.  So let’s start with poetry.  I’ll try the others over the next four months.

I’ve mentioned before that poetry is something I fiddle with sometimes.  It feels like painting with words to me.  I’m not sure I’m any good at it, but I enjoy it.  I hope you do too.

Write Them Down

Write them down,
Write them down!

Get these people out of my head,
Clear their stories from my mind.
If I don’t get them written,
They jostle my brain,
Pushing at one another, and
elbowing mundane thoughts aside.
Looking for a crack to force their way
To the center of my attention.
They clamor at me,
Demanding to be freed.
Behind them I perceive
the crowd that is to come.
New faces with new stories
As yet still undefined.
But soon they will raise the cry,
A call to be realized.
Pounding at the door of creativity,
So I must clear some space.

Write them down!
Write them down!

Short Stories – The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories by Mark Twain (1872) – A collection of 30 short stories from one of the greatest American authors.  Twain is in many ways the most American of our native born writers.  His subjects, point of view and sense of humor are rooted in the still young nation he observed.  In these stories he explores a wide range of topics.  His storytelling style remains crisp even 150 years later.  Following the Civil War the nation is beginning to feel its oats.  Industry and business are beginning to boom at the international level.  The American begins to travel more, and be seen.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories

And Twain has fun with one and all.

My favorites here are:

  • “The $30,000 Bequest” – A married couple that there is a possibility of a great deal of money coming to them.  Just the promise is enough to put them off the rails.
  • “Italian Without A Master” and “Italian With Grammar” – Twain exercises his well developed sense of whimsey.  This is the bold American taking on the language of Italy as only a bold American might.
  • “General Washington’s Negro Body Servant” – The death of an old black man, reputed to have worked for the first President, gives Twain the opportunity to wield some subtle jabs at the growing American mythology surround our nation’s founders.
  • “An Entertaining Article” –  Twain takes the opportunity to publicly examine a less than flattering review.  An English critic took great exception to the American author’s “An Innocent Abroad”.  Many authors wish they had the wit, the writing skill and the outright gumption to do what Twain does here.
  • “A Humane Word From Satan” – “The editors of Harper’s Weekly have reason to believe this letter is from Mark Twain”.  That introductory note that went with the original publication of the short story tell you everything you need to know about the story.  Twain is preparing to puncture a few more pompous balloons.

I enjoyed almost every story here.  The places my attention stumbled were stories that went after specific public figures.  Twain assumes a base level of familiarity in his readers that I don’t have a century and a half later.  I enjoyed the writing, even if the details of the story eluded me.

Twain is the first great American writer from an America that begins to resemble ours.  He wasn’t born on the East Coast and his writing takes us into the everyday life in the nation.   Here’s a great collection to add to your list.

Writing – Afterwords

 

If you read my short fiction collection “Shorts” (and I would love for you to do that!), you will discover that I have a small idiosyncrisy.  I like including afterwords for each of the stories.  I have been told by some folks that this is a terrible thing to do.  The feeling is that a story should stand on its own, and once the author finishes the story,  nothing else should need to be said.

I don’t care.

I have read plenty of “classic” collections that are just the stories and enjoyed them immensely.  But some of my favorite collections include addenda from the author about the story.  What inspired it, stories about how they wrote it, or what happened after they wrote it.  So when the time came to publish my own collection there was no question what I was going to do.

There would be afterwords.

There is a decision there.  For AFTERwords rather than FOREwords for each story.  When you come into a story, I want you to enjoy it as it is.  Find the meaning that it offers up for you.  Sometimes that’s different from my intent.  Which is super!  After you’ve enjoyed it, then I’d like to start a little conversation about it.  Here’s where the story came from (in the case of the story “The Sniper Dream” it’s a little creepy), why I wrote it, what it means to me.  Maybe that makes you go back and look again, maybe it matches perfectly with your impression, or maybe it leads you to say “You were trying for WHAT?  Missed the mark on that one!”.  I’m OK with all of those answers.

My hope is that it adds a little something to the experience.  That you’ll feel like you understand me and my writing a little better, maybe feel like you know me a little better.  I don’t know if that’s the goal for any other writer on the planet.  It’s my goal.

The only goal I can concern myself with as a writer.

So I hope you grab a copy of the book, I hope you enjoy the stories, and I hope the Afterwords add a little something as well.

Peace

JD