Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hacking Away the Underbrush

I'm glad the feeling comes in difficult endeavors that you think you can make your way through.

Paul Simon said he gets a satisfied feeling by writing songs that never comes in any other parts of his life. Susan Shaughnessy said of writing books --- or in writing long narratives, I guess, distinguishing from songwriting --- that you get the sense of a breakthrough coming.

I've only finished one novel, start to finish. I have to admit there was, or, perhaps, there were times when I felt a breakthrough was coming and had other senses of insight and ways of getting through a forest when I felt lost in the dense trees and brush. It was nice to have the feeling or the sense that you could break through. But that all didn't finish the work or make it any easier to stick to it and fight through it. Sometimes the underbrush had to be hacked away.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Weird isn't it? I don't go to libraries much. It seems like about the only time I go there is to show up for my critiquing sessions with my fellow critiquers. I don't usually check out books --- at least, not at the library. Occasionally, I'll help Shelley download an audio book to listen to, but I don't even usually listen to it myself.

Shelley goes. She goes all of the time. Takes a bag; fills it up; brings it home. Chooses a few of the books to look at, reads some. Pretty soon she says it's time to go to the library again to check the old ones in and some new ones out.

As I think about that notion --- me not going to the library or checking books out there --- I feel a little ashamed. It's as if I don't wanna put such information out here for all the world to see. Here I am, professing to be a writer, and I don't go to library and I don't check out books. Weird, huh?

I remember going to the Clearfield library when I was a boy. I don't know who I was there with. It doesn't seem like my parents would have taken me there. I don't recall them ever going there, having library cards, or whatever you needed back then to check things out. It's possible I was there with a friend or with my sister. However, I doubt my sister ever checkd anything out from the library either.

I had a friend named Tom --- well, I still consider him a friend --- whose mother worked at the library for a while --- at least, I think she did. I doubt, however, him having a mother who worked there had any connection to my memory of being there, but perhaps.

But I read. I would say, relative to the general population, I read a lot. What I read, however, is usually something we've purchased over the years. Sometimes, I'll pick up a library book Shelley has brought home, and I'll read that. For example, I'm reading Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. Come to think of it, though, I actually went to the library with Shelley that day, and I picked that book out. She read it, liked it, and I decided I better read it.

In fact, I ought to decide to make going to the library and picking out books to read more of a habit. It's not a bad idea.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Writing to Pick Subjects Apart

Does writing have to hurt somebody?

Can what is written please everybody and get received across the board without criticism or concern?

Hardly. Everybody brings to reading their agenda, their biases.

It's no different for the writer. The writer brings biases to the table in dissertation. I don't know of any way around that.

My writing has a focus, at least it seems that way to me. What got me writing more seriously to begin with was a friend telling me his wife was leaving him for an older man who had a reputation as a polygamist. My friend and his wife had children, like me, and I couldn't fathom losing both my wife and my children to an older man who ascribed to something as crass and ugly as polygamy. So, in dealing myself with the trauma the situation of my friend faced, I started writing about a scenario enough like it that I thought I could get some resolution or understanding from it. Of course, it was a fiction, a creation of my mind, only partially related to the actual situation as I understood it.

I finished the novel --- as revised, it has almost 120,000 words --- of the scenario I crafted based upon the premise of a wife leaving her husband and taking her kids to be with a polygamist.

The next writing project I undertook had me contemplating Al Qaeda, the invasion of Iraq, war, and the consequences to family when a family member is lost fighting abroad. Not only that, but the notion of religious fanaticism that causes men and women, and even children, to sacrifice themselves to create death care in others for political ends. I wrote about 100-120 pages on that project and put it on the back burner. There were some problems with the beginning of the story and its setting and the environment that I wanted to percolate with the full intention of returning to it later.

As I analyze it now, it also involved scenarios for which I felt emotionally drained: self-sacrifice to kill others and push a political/religious agenda; the death and loss of a father of a family due to military service in a war abroad that had devolved into a morass of involvement that should probably never have happened to begin with; and the prejudice in America of those who are outside of the norm.

My next project --- the one item most actively working on presently --- involves the family of immigrants from Mexico to the United States who don't have documentation. The protagonist is a boy who was born on the Mexican side of the border just before his parents crossed the border into the United States the first time. The story is set when the boy is fourteen and the family has lived in the United States all that time, and for the most part during that history they faced no dire consequences for being in the United States without legal documentation. However, as the United States economy started to tank, the heat on them as immigrants without documentation start to rise, and their lives became much more difficult and complex.

So most of what I choose to write about seems to involve questions I have about the nature of things in the world around me, usually, things I have no control over but have an emotional impact on me because they seem like they would have a grave emotional and physical impact upon people in those situations.

I suppose this is somewhat the process of all people who try to write.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Check out Expelled Exposed

We have church now at nine o'clock in the morning. In priesthood meeting, we had the first lesson out of the new Gospel Principles manual. The first chapter in that manual is "Our Father in Heaven." Our group leader taught the lesson today. The major points were: there is a God, the nature of God, and coming to know God.

At a point in the lesson discussion, a couple of the men in the class started deriding people who don't believe, even suggesting that such people are colluding with each other to prevent religious people from believing what they want to believe, trying, I guess they were suggesting, to override the Constitution. One fellow trotted out the same old allusions to Korihor from the book of Mormon, casting everybody in the same mold as him.

I took them to task, suggesting that many people who are nonbelievers are good people, undeserving of their aspersions. One fellow became defensive, suggesting he wasn't casting any aspersions. After the class was over, the one individual came over to me and offered to let me watch a movie by Ben Stein, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. I said I would like to. So he went right out to his car, I guess, and before Sunday school started, produced a copy of the movie, all wrapped up in a plastic bag from the grocery store, for me to take home and watch.

I went home and watched the movie. Well, it was Ben Stein to begin with, and on the cover was an endorsement by none other than Glenn Beck. Of course, I wasn't expecting much else, I guess. In any event, I watched the movie, found it interesting and entertaining and about as biased as anything gets. No wonder I have never liked Ben Stein that much. At least he isn't as caustic as Glenn Beck.

After I finished watching the movie, I went out on the Internet and googled the title of the movie and Ben Stein together, read the Wikipedia entry on the movie, and then went to the entry, and read some of that. I then returned the movie, thanked the brother for letting me watch it, and he said perhaps Ben Stein had some biases. I said that I agreed with Ben Stein when he suggested that the walls have to come down to communication. I suggested my friend and brother in the Gospel consider looking up

Friday, January 8, 2010

Writer 's Advantage

Do you think that writers have an advantage over non-writers when it comes to conversations? That is, are writers more articulate verbally?

I think that may be true, however, I don't think it's true in every case.

For example, I'm not particularly chatty. I like to analyze my words and syntax more than the rapid pace of any normal conversation permits. On the other hand, my analysis and effort in composing words on the page pay off by growing vocabulary and an ultimate ability to better organize sentences and paragraphs.

Maybe that's my imagination, though, that it makes for better writing but not necessarily better conversations with other people on the fly.

It makes me wonder where the ability to be chatty stems from. Is it innate, or at just what stage does it seem to develop?

One observation I made involved my father. When he was married to my mother, who I believe was more like me --- less chatty, he, too, seemed less chatty. However, after my mother died, and my father remarried, he became more chatty consistent with the woman he married, Rita.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Down Sand Mountain

I don't think Dewey Turner and his friend, Darla, ever make it together down Sand Mountain.

You'll have to read the book --- or, perhaps, you already have --- and tell me if they do. My recollection is leaning toward one conclusion about that issue --- it's been a while since I finished it, but you can let me know in your own review when you post it what you think.

It's like a lot of things about the book, though. There is not the easy this or that or black-and-white of easy thinkers there. It's not necessarily a read for the sanctimonious or for persons who would wrench all the color out of it. Hence, it can be said that the book moves a little slowly and perhaps a little delicately, but given the circumstances, maybe that's a good thing. After all, it was 1966, and even if it didn't seem to move so slowly back then, compared with today, it did.

I don't pretend to know whether the youth of today can tolerate a slow read or more complex issues than puritanical crap. Of course, I don't mean to lump them all together, for in my mind, to some degree that is the message of the book: to take your time, to make a careful and considered analysis, to decide what is important, and not to make quick and hasty judgments of people, but to value everybody for their uniqueness.

I think there's a lot to say about an artificial mountain made of sand from the tailings of mining in the flat lands of Florida as it relates to Dewey and Darla and their respective trips down it. What do you think?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Slavery By Another Name

Don't read this book.

I say that in the vein of Br'er Rabbit's, "Don't throw me in that briar patch."

Exploitation of the downtrodden by some rich and powerful people and corporations is nothing new here in America or elsewhere in the world, and it seems to never vanish. It is an old relic of evolution --- you know, survival of the fittest and all that crap. And it continues well after evolution has passed beyond the notion of just picking on the poor and the meek and exploiting them to something more sophisticated that assimilates the poor and meek into the process of all of mankind getting along in the world for the greater good. You know, like loving your neighbor as yourself.

Blackmon does his job in this comprehensive work of chronicling the history of how exploitation --- or, as he makes amply plain, slavery --- played out in America in the most horrific way after the Civil War and on up until almost the Civil Rights Movement.

Rich and powerful men and corporations, devoid of scruples, colluded and bought and sold African-Americans at county courthouses throughout the South in a system tantamount to slavery. They, in collusion with some of the local authorities in government , utilized trumpped-up criminal charges against the newly-emancipated men and women to gain control over them once again. You know, you've got to kick a dog when he's down. Then they utilized outrageous fees, insurmountable for the impoverished newly-emancipated men and women to pay, to keep them in their thrall year in and year out until the new "slaves" died horrible deaths.

It's kind of like what you often see with respect to some of the rich and powerful individuals and corporations over against some undocumented immigrants today.

This is a book of awesome research and deliberate storytelling that, if you have any humanity in your veins at all, will bring tears to your eyes, and, hopefully, an intention to do something about it.

Are We Amercians?

We ARE Americans is a must-read for anyone who wants to be more fully informed about those individuals who come across the southern border to the United States from Mexico to live among us in order to better themselves. This book will flesh out some of the human drama involved in such lives. Many children have grown up here in our school systems only to find themselves stuck in inexpressible ways from advancing and contributing further to our society. Any person with a conscience and any degree of compassion ought to know the stories.

I personally conceptualized and started writing a story about a fourteen-year-old boy who had been born a few hundred yards on the Mexican side of the US-Mexican border as his parents escaped the hellhole they had lived in by crossing the border into the United States. In my mind, I imagined that his parents' families --- essentially his grandparents --- had been mixed up in the lower echelon of the drug cartels in Mexico. What I wanted to convey was that the family wanted to escape from the dire circumstances of their lives in Mexico.

Therefore, I decided to read We ARE Americans, Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream by William Perez.

Perez interviewed twenty undocumented students who live in the United States and have done so for a good chunk of their lives. Almost all of them are still undocumented aliens living in the United States without legal justification for being here under US law. Twenty is such a small sampling of the 2.4 million children and young adults under the age of twenty-four who the forward indicates now live in the United States undocumented.

Four of the kids interviewed were still in high school. For example, Penelope, who was on the cusp of graduating from high school with an excellent academic record and had participated in numerous extracurricular activities, fears that she won't be able to afford college and go to the university. She came to the United States when she was nine years old. She was raised by her mother after her parents separated. Jeronimo was born in Mexico but came to the United States when he was a year old, and essentially living all of his life in the United States.

Four more of the kids were in community college --- mostly because they couldn't afford to be at the university. Eight of the kids were at the university. For example, Eduardo said he was restricted in joining clubs, participating in school events, taking on leadership roles at the university because of his status. He considers himself a typical American boy, who grew up with brothers and sisters --- three brothers and one sister --- in a regular family. Well... maybe not so regular. He grew up in a two-bedroom house with his mother, father, his three brothers, and his sister sharing the small space. The family relied heavily upon him because he was the oldest of the kids.

Four of the interviewees were actually college graduates. Julia was in graduate school working to get her PhD in engineering. She came to the United States from a poor neighborhood in Mexico when she was thirteen years old. She had attended some school in Mexico, but it was in a poor school without the educational resources of the schools in the United States. It was a dangerous place for her to live. Nonetheless, both in Mexico and in the United States, she distinguished herself as a student.

The stories are informative and compelling. These are the stories of twenty highly motivated and hard-working students. There are others, many others, I assume, here in the United States without documentation who do not process the motivation or inherent ability of these twenty hard-working and motivated kids. I doubt that their plights are any less compelling than are the ones told in the book, other than the fact that they are perhaps lacking in inherent ability and perhaps, therefore, the drive to succeed in school.

Not only does the book contain the heartrending stories of these kids, but it also contains important facts about the composition and, to some extent, the comportment of those individuals who are here without proper documentation.

Every American is affected one way or another by those who want to pursue and to live the great American dream, but who cross our borders without documentation or come here legally but then lose their legal status but don't leave. Whenever anybody makes a judgment relative to this issue, they should be fully informed. These are people.

This book, in my opinion, presents a convincing case for why we need to get a better handle on immigration and in making reformations so that these youngsters, who have lived much of their lives in the United States school system, can be fully assimilated into our society as citizens.

The question is, are we Americans? Those of us with citizenship --- will we step up to the plate and support those so deserving of our consideration? I hope so.

Miracles and Other Christmas Stories

I've put the Connie Willis Christmas book away for now, stowed it carefully in my Kindle, and if it gets too crowded there, it'll always be available on my computer or in the Amazon archives. Come next November, however, I'll want it back there, right at the top of my reading list again, to savor some quirky story of Willis's in the quiet moments while waiting somewhere in a line, while riding in the car or bus to some destination, when a speaker's delivery isn't up to snuff, or when I'm waiting for the doctor to see me.

Hopefully, I'll use them again to better evaluate my place in the world in terms of the stories and their allusions to history and to myth.

To me, that's the value of reading great stories: self-evaluation and, of course, inspiration. I won't discard other Christmas favorites: Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. Or even the one's Willis recommends there in her own collection.

There's something unique in reading Christmas stories with that fantastical and, at times, science-fictiony element that Willis is so renowned for. The whimsy and the easy nature of her storytelling is so conducive to the Christmas spirit.

So next year, sometime after Thanksgiving, I wouldn't be surprised if my wife catches me cozied down in the leather recliner with a subtle smile on my face reading about Joseph and Mary caught up in current times through some time warp or something, finding themselves in a Christian church where people are encouraged not to get too caught up in compassion, and the two of them not knowing quite how to get back on the path to Bethlehem. I'll be contemplating "Joseph lying about the baby being his, and the wise men sneaking out the back way, the holy family hightailing it to Egypt and the innkeeper lying to Herod's soldiers about where they'd gone."

My wife will speak to me, asking what I'm reading, and I'll say, "We are all capable of murder. It's in our genes." She'll say, "Boy, you're getting in the Christmas spirit, aren't you?" and I'll say, "You know, 'the story of the Second Coming was a single narrative, but it was actually a hodgepodge of isolated scriptures.'"

About that time, the electronic file on my Kindle will magically disappear. It had its origins in Connie Willis, after all, and she has just that kind of magic in her writing. If you've read these stories, you know just what I mean.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Too Much

People talk of waiting for something to write about, but that's not my problem.

No, my problem is trying to decide among all the available things to write about what to zero in on.

So, mostly, I just don't zero in at all --- well, except for the book I'm currently working on and a few other distractions, but I don't write as much as I should. It's like all my senses overwhelm me. And not only my senses, but my feelings and thoughts do, too.

That pain in my foot. That recollection of my friend from youth who last year got so ill and almost died.

There's just so much.

There's the homemade bandage I made this morning when I couldn't find a store-bought one but had cut myself with my box cutter and was bleeding like a pig.

There's the line of books on the shelves on the wall above my computer screen --- not to mention all the ones I have taken the spine off of and fed through a scanner, hundreds of them.

There's all these colors and sounds, even though the TV is off and the radio isn't on, either. But the computer has a engine, a fan, or something making a faint sound. And even in making that observation, you see how I have to explore it, analyze it, figure it out. And there are other people in this house. They come and go and there is no silence.

Somebody flushes the toilet. Somebody speaks.

I'm thirsty, and I take a sip of water. Water is so bland. I wonder what's in the fridge?

And on it goes, little or no focus. Often little or no willingness to find a focus.