Sunday, December 28, 2008


I look into the crowd. It comprises youngsters, no one older than thirty, no one younger than eighteen, mostly white faces but some diversity. I see two black men, no black women. A couple of men, maybe more, could have African roots. There are a few I would identify as Latinos and Latinas. A few Asians. I see no clue as to the geography or demographic. The lettering I see on T-shirts is mostly hidden and incomplete. It is warm weather, shirtsleeve weather. Many individuals wear sunglasses. There are at least three who wear regular spectacles, no four. Maybe more.

Their eyes are not focused on the same thing. Many of them are looking my direction, but many are not. I would say the majority of them are looking my way. One man is looking down, as if concentrating on his cell phone or PDA. One guy is looking definitely way off to the side. So is one woman. She is standing in front of him, and it's as if something has distracted them, for the majority is looking my direction, if not directly looking at me. One guy had his hand up to his ear, as if adjusting an earbud.

Their dress is casual. I don't see anybody with a dress-shirt and tie. One guy I see has on a button-down collar. Most are simple T-shirts. Men seem to predominate, but of course the women are shorter on the whole, and it is more difficult to see them then it is the men. There's another guy, who's looking down toward the ground. And way back there, there is another guy looking off to the side like the two nearer the front I mentioned earlier.

The predominant character is almost directly in the middle of the shot, a taller white guy, light-complected, maybe a redhead. He has glasses and a pleasant smile. It looks as though he might have something over his ear, like a Bluetooth device of some sort. He is wearing an orange sweatshirt with a strap over his shoulder indicating he is carrying something, a bag or a camcorder case. There is lettering on his sweatshirt, an identifiable "x" and maybe a letter "a" after that. I guess it could be Texas, but it is only guess. The two black guys are on either side of him and slightly behind him. There is another white guy in front of him, slightly to his right. He isn't centrally located, however, and doesn't stand out as much.

It's probably a crowd at a college or university. My guess.

Mankind is diverse. And it also runs the gamut from perversion to saintliness. Where am I within it? What does what I see in the crowd say about me?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


These are my four 2008 favorite reads, in descending order:

First, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy posits a loving and capable father and a dependent and obedient son, survivors and parasites on a seemingly decapitated earth, "among the last of the surviving good guys." This is a bleak book with a glint of eternal light at the end. My words and thoughts can do it no justice. It may not be for everybody, but it is for me!

Second, The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak.

Bravo Zusak! A standing ovation, a mighty opus. You stood Death on her head, removing her dark cloak and scythe, clothing her with feeling and letting us see she has eyes to see and a heart to feel, and the intellect to narrate a compelling story. I was so glad to find out she has a womb. Out of Death comes Life. (More at GoodReads:

Third, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a novel, by Dave Eggers.

I read this book and Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture one month this summer. It was interesting to contrast their two lives and situations. The two "storytellers" had the help of "professional" writers to relate what had happened and was happening to them. The professionals did marvelous work, but the way these two men, Valentino and Randy, lived their lives made it all reverberate within the soul. I preferred this book and story to Pausch's. It made me realize the continued inhumanity of humanity to the poor and downtrodden, despite the lessons of history. Oh, how much more we should do as a blessed people and a nation! How much do we waste on the hell of war when we could deliver so many innocent boys and girls unfairly consigned to hell? (More at GoodReads:

Fourth, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

My religious heritage includes polygamy. I suppose most people's does, whether they realize it or not. Any female progenitor of mine who shared a husband with other women has my utmost sympathy. It has never interested me the least to find out about it if it happened, even though in my culture that would be the natural thing to do. And then to brag about it, also, and to allude to it as some sort of badge of honor. I suppose I would just as soon surmise that the women in my ancestral line had better sense than submit to that. But sometimes they have no choice.

In his book, Hosseini imagines Nana, a woman and a mother who cherished each blue-and-white porcelain piece of her deceased mother's Chinese tea set, but not much else. Such was the sole relic of Nana's mother, who had died when Nana was two. At the beginning of the book, five-year-old Mariam, Nana's sole daughter, ends up dropping the blue-and-white porcelain sugar bowl, painted with a hand-painted dragon meant to ward off evil, from the set. It shatters. Mariam drops it while awaiting arrival of her father. (More at GoodReads:


Monday, December 22, 2008

A sociological perspective

Great writers utilize psychology. Since psychology involves the analysis of individual behavior, to create fully realized characters a writer must also fully realize their characters' psyches. At the same time, every character must find a suitable place in the midst of society, which of necessity means interaction, interplay, and a realization of all that a broader environment means. Individualism and individual rights are so important to us that often we seek psychological explanations for all behavior. We must remember though that personal psyches exist in the entire context of being, not just within the individual mind.

We can't afford to give psychological explanations for personality differences and other types of motivations without considering the entire setting and context of our characters. To do so would leave our work incomplete.

Our characters always find themselves in a culture, somewhere in place and time. But culture is not pure. It is always tainted. And we must recognize it. We must see a complex configuration. A configuration that includes economics and politics and social institutions in their entire array.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Since writers are in the business of selling their work, they are not unlike the media in that they typically seek out celebrity or the bizarre and extreme. Not unlike television, they want to hold their writers the way television seeks to hold its viewers. Don't change that dial. Don't quit flipping pages or stop reading. That being the case, writers risk misrepresenting society, behavior, and what is acceptable in the mainstream. There might be little objectivity to their work. What they write about might not be at all representative of what really happens, or rather, what usually happens. It is probably the exception rather than the rule.

It is important to always keep in mind the scene for every human action. Human interaction is contextual in nature. In a sense, though, it all comes down to the question of how much of what we do is due to cause and effect as opposed to genuine libertarian free will. I think it is important to accept that both bear sway in our lives. I think though, in academia, the notion of cause and effect holds the predominant position. Perhaps I have misapprehended it, and I will study it further and consider the question in all I do when writing.

Friday, December 19, 2008


It is possible to underestimate the importance of setting in fiction, but it is not possible to have no setting whatsoever in fiction . Behavior only occurs in a setting.

In his book, Into the Wild, John Krakauer follows his subject, Christopher McCandless, into the wilds of Alaska. The setting relative to human interaction is as spare, I guess, as it gets in that work, unless of course the subject of a work is other than human.

Our characters are shaped by their context. It is important to remember that, to remember that setting influences our behaviors. We have a fascination for what other people do within a particular context. How we act. How we think. How we interact. How our setting influences our behavior.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Limits of Life

They say that our place in society sets limits on our possibilities in life. The same is true of those who people our fiction. If we posit a character, a Mexican male, for example, who immigrates to the United States, we need to be aware that it is less likely for such a character to commit crime or take drugs than it is for a citizen of the United States to do so. That might not seem intuitive, but it is the case according to at least one study. And if we set a scene in a low-income area rather than in a White or affluent neighborhood, we must recognize that differences exist. For example, chemical accidents occur more likely in low-income areas than in White or affluent areas. Perhaps that is not a surprise, but social context is important. Things happen because of our place within our culture and society. Good stories recognize this, exploit it, and explore it, trying to understand.

Time is also an important element of place in society. Set a story in the future and voilĂ , you have science fiction. Set it in the past, and you have historical fiction. Put it in the present and who knows what you might have? Contemporary fiction? The bottom line is that change influences our lives. All of us. And what is true of us, must be true of the characters we create.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The exercise of writing fiction allows me to develop social perspective that I might not otherwise have. I imagine characters set in circumstances that differ from mine. For example, in my first novel, Time for All Eternity, my protagonist lives in the Midwest, and his wife of over twenty years leaves him for a polygamist who is from the Wild West. In another novel I have in process set in the Great Basin where I reside, my protagonist moves into Mormon country and into a neighborhood less diverse than she is used to but more diverse than is typical in the Great Basin. She is nearly 60 years old and investigates toxic spills and pollution violations for a living. She is unmarried --- an old maid, if you will --- but she loves children and makes alliances around the neighborhood with the school-age kids. In still another ongoing novel, my protagonist is in the United States with his parents, and they have lived there for his entire life, except for one day, the day he was born. He is, along with his family, undocumented and they face the constant threat of deportation.

These characters and their situations cause me to contemplate their lives and how they would differ and do differ from my own. I have to consider their relative wealth or lack thereof as it comes into play in their lives. I have to consider how their circumstances --- how much they make and where they live --- determines where they live and the type of schools they attend or attended and the type of education they got that led to what they do now to make a living. All of these things impact their careers, and how they live their life every day in the here and now.

When you start contemplating significant changes in the lives of others over against your own it makes a big difference. Wealth, schooling, health care, religion, and sex make big differences in people's lives. In order to imagine characters for fiction you have to consider all these things: family life, social class, religion, sex, education, and race. If you don't consider them all carefully, you fail to correctly draw your characters. Their script in life is dependent upon all of these factors.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The other day I was stirring about as I do most days, not making too much happen because that doesn't seem to be my nature. I had, of course, started a blog on income taxes and the like, trying to target writers and artisans, and trying to figure out how to build traffic to my tax book. I decided to look at some newer tax cases. So I did a search of 2008 cases using the term "hobby" to see how many people confronted that term in the United States Tax Court. Two cases came up. One was a surprise. It is the case of Ronald B. Talmage. Right off, that case made me think of James R. Talmage, the author of Jesus the Christ

Ronald B. and his wife Annette C. faced considerable alleged deficiencies In the United States Tax Court. In fact, they faced additional taxes of a whopping $2,675,926 related to four years: 1998 through 2001. Well, to say the least that picked my interest. Not only did they allegedly owe that massive amount of additional tax, but they also, according to the IRS, owed additional fines for delinquency and fraud. There was no way, it seemed, Ronald B. could be related to James R. so I read on.

First some background: I learned that Ronald B. was born and raised in Utah. Further, after graduating from high school a few years after me, in 1971 (the year I married), he enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. A year later he left to go on the typical mission a young man of his religious persuasion serves for a couple of years. They sent him to Japan. While there, he met Kumiko Wako, and subsequently took her to the United States where they married in 1975. Ronald reenrolled at BYU and eventually graduated with a degree in business administration and Asian studies.

In early 1978, the married couple moved to Japan. Ronald worked at a language school there. They had also begun having children as early as 1976, when they have a little girl. The same year they moved to Japan they had a son, and then in 1984 they had another girl.

In 1979, Ronald began working in various real estate developments and investments. He also offered investment advisory services.

More on this later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I started a new blog for writers, artisans, and freelancers today. The emphasis will be on taxes and death. It's at Below is the text of the first posting:

At least monthly, sometimes more, sometimes less, I escape. Perhaps "escape" is too strong a word. Let's put it this way: I leave the comfortable confines of my home and the company of my endearing family, leaving behind my marital and parental responsibilities, and I make my way down to the Barnes & Noble store in my community. There the Wasatch Writers Chapter of the League of Utah Writers meets to discuss writing or to listen to workshops or lectures by writers and freelancers who usually have more experience than we who attend have. Our guests are interested in sharing their writers' know-how and expertise.

I enjoy these meetings. Maybe you do something similar. Maybe instead of going to your nearby bookstore you go to the library or community center or someone's home to meet with your peers in writing leagues, associations, and organizations to enjoy their company and discuss your passion as writers, artisans, or freelancers of various stripes.

If you are such an individual, this blog might help you. If not, perhaps it's not for you. Check it out, and see what you think. It is intended primarily for those at the threshold of a business as a writer, artisan, or a freelancer. Its focus will be upon taxes and death as they pertain to writers, artisans, and freelancers. At least that's the plan.

Benjamin Franklin's statement about death and taxes has become ubiquitous. He said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." One thing I have learned in all my years is that it is often difficult for regular folks to get a handle on either one of these subjects. In the days and months ahead, I hope to explore the subject as they pertain to artisans and writers who do freelancing. I hope to gain some sort of audience, but we shall see how that works out.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I can buy into conspiracy theory. When I contemplate the current economic meltdown, it is easy enough to put the blame on the rich and powerful, to believe or to think that they have manipulated things in order to humble the middle and lower classes, as if those folks in those echelons weren't already humble enough. Of late, a considerable segment of society has observed the growing disparity between the wealth of the rich and the middle and lower classes, how it is a gap that is widening exponentially. It's as if the wealthy and rich elite need to knock down the masses a notch or two

In such circumstances, with our government printing out money left and right and giving it to financial institutions without seeming limits, and now even giving it to manufacturers with it apparent that the auto makers will get their billions, too, it is easy enough to believe the rich and powerful are out to get us. I say us, because I fall into those categories that exclude the rich and powerful.

Fortunately, it appears that we have elected a leader --- Barack Obama --- equal to the task of taking on the rich and powerful. I pray that it isn't just an appearance alone, but a reality. So many people are praying and hoping the same thing. It is as if we stand at that proverbial crossroads relative to our nation's dominant position in the world. Not only is our position at risk, but the lives and security of so many of our people are threatened.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Somebody in Sunday School today suggested, as has been common in my experience in classrooms at the church, that the descendents of Moroni included the Native Americans in North and South America. Of course that was the historical perspective of the past, but of late --- what with DNA analysis and whatnot --- that notion has given up ground and has become less palpable. As a people, the general population of the United States doesn't adopt for itself the history of its Native Americans or inculcate their mythology or legends into its history. As has been stated, we haven't adopted the mythology of origins that others have; rather, we make it up as we go along. For us, it is process rather than a cohesive story, partly because we as a nation hail from all corners of the world. While the Mormons tried to do that for quite a bit of history here in the United States, that notion has waned.

As a general principle, I am quite ignorant of history. The subject never attracted me with any great allure. I need to acquaint myself with the principles of the founders of this great nation and to see where those principles have taken us and where we now stand. As I understand it, it was some time back in the halcyon days of the eighteenth century that the notions upon which we as a nation supposedly stand, took root. Who were those forefathers that influenced us so much? It includes names like Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, and Adams.

So tomorrow a group of former employees of Blackwater, the private security force that peddles its wares throughout the world but in particular in the Middle East, will surrender here in Utah to the authorities pursuant to an allegation that in Iraq they fired upon innocents, killing many of them. One of the alleged perpetrators is from Utah. That may be why they are all surrendering here; I'm not certain of that. In any event, somewhere at the beginnings of the country a foundation must've been laid to hold people accountable for their crimes. Even if they committed them abroad, in the midst of a war.

We shall see.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


One day soon when I get a minute I need to create another blog on taxation for writers and artisans. Kelly Lindberg suggested it might be a way to attract some attention for my book, Making Expression Less Taxing, a Freelancer's Tax Resource. There is still a plethora of things I don't know about promoting books. I'm sure there are things I don't know that I don't want to know either.

Most of today I have been reading through and editing and making remarks about Britney's book about the fall. The Fall as in The Fall in religion, that is. Her book, I believe, has some potential. I'm thinking, however, it might have an audience that is quite limited because the view of the fall presented in it is from the LDS perspective.

I have been reading, among other books, Slavery by Another Name: the Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. It was written by Douglas A. Blackmon. I heard Blackmon on the Diane Rehm show on PBS. I was so impressed with his presentation there that I immediately checked to see if the Kindle book was available and purchased it after finding out it was

It is essentially a history book and its title is pretty descriptive of the subject matter. It chronicles how Southern whites essentially re-enslaved the supposedly liberated and emancipated slaves of the South after the Civil War. Not only did the whites --- not all whites of course --- re-enslave many blacks, but for the most part they did so in a more grotesque and in your main way that was done before the Civil War and the emancipation. Where before the war slaves worked primarily in agriculture, after the war, they were generally forced to work in mining and manufacturing

Southern whites enacted ridiculous laws that discriminated against the blacks whereby the blacks could be arrested on almost any pretense. For example, they could be arrested for loitering, also known as vagrancy, and jailed and fined for everything under the sun: to pay the man who arrested them, the man who jailed them, the justice of the peace who sentenced them, and any number of other individuals involved in their "handling" and "processing," so much so that it was impossible for them to ever pay or for anyone they knew or were related to, to help them pay. Once the whites had them in that situation, the local governments sold them to whoever was willing to pay their fees and fines. This included mining and other manufacturing concerns and individuals involved in agriculture. But now, the blacks were treated more harshly than ever. It was a disgusting scenario.