Sunday, December 11, 2011

Above the Inversion

Six weeks ago, I went on a hike. The summer had passed too quickly, and I wanted to get outdoors. I had such a fun time I went out the next week. And the next. And the next. So today, even though it was a bit on the cold side, I headed up once more.

I've always wanted to hike to Flag Rock above Farmington. But although Farmington has some great trails, I can't ever seem to find any trail heads. I always feel like I'm sneaking through somebody's backyard to get into the hills. Today, with the help of Google Maps, I found a place where I could hop a fence and get to my goal.

Here in Utah we've had an inversion for several days. It comes with the season. I don't know exactly how it works, but the long and short of it is the weather causes all of the pollutants to be trapped close to the ground. It's not fun to breathe. Today I hiked high enough to get above all the gunk. Here are a few pictures.

You can see the difference when the camera is pointed skyward.

The Flag Rock trail was a pretty good climb. I couldn't talk any of the boys with  going with me, but perhaps now that they've seen the pictures they'll come along. There's always next week.

If you'd like to see more of the pics from the hike, you can see them here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Writing/Running Songs

I'm always looking for new songs to run and write to. I find if I find a song works well for one activity, it usually works well for the other. Here are a few recent additions to my play list. I should note that I'm usually just listening to the song, not watching the video. Although I must admit, the video to this first one is pretty nifty.

Lonely Boy - Black Keys

This song has been getting a lot of radio time, but so far I haven't grown weary of it. The song itself is upbeat, while the lyrics tend to be quite dark.

Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People

And this song just demands that you crank up the volume, if only a little. The music video is not the official one. Somebody mashed up the song with scenes from the 1998 film, Pi.

Super Bon Bon - Soul Coughing

And finally, I'm really liking Neon Trees. They've got several songs I've added to my list, but for some reason, this one does it for me.

Animal - Neon Trees

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Devil in the Details

It seems like I get a hankering to get outdoors right as it's getting to cold to actually go outside. But this evening I decided it was warm enough to hike part way up the mountain and try to get a few pictures of the sunset. Sunsets are hit and miss, and since I'm not really a good photographer, I tend to miss, even when the sunset is a hit. Tonight, this is what I got.

Not bad, but nothing to scream about. It's a sunset. It's the sun. It's setting. Nifty.

I took a dozen or so of these. It was pretty simple. Just point the camera and click. They all looked fine. As I walked along the trail, I noticed some withered flowers. I got the idea to take a picture of them, up close. It was a little more difficult. I had to take off my backpack, sit or lie in the mud, and get the focus just right. I took a few pictures of the flowers, and put the sunset in the background. The result was a little different.

Again, I'm no photographer, but when I got back and threw all the photos on my computer, it was these pictures that caught my eye.

It got me thinking about writing (because lately writing is all I can seem to think about). There are a lot of cool stories out there. Epic stories. Stories with powerful messages. But what makes a story grand? It's not the big picture. It's the little ones. The details.

Consider J.R.R. Tolkien's epic masterpiece. It's a story of good, evil, courage, sacrifice, and everything in between. But how does it start? With tiny details. Small, but important.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

I can sense a world there. Tolkien doesn't paint a large picture. He paints a small one. With small details. But from those details we get swept along on an epic journey. One that is made up of small details.

Consider the first line of Michael Crichton's novel The Great Train Robbery:

Forty minutes out of London, passing through the rolling green fields and cherry orchards of Kent, the morning train of the South Eastern Railway attained its maximum speed of fifty-four miles and hour.

Nothing but details. But they hint at another world. A deep and rich world, one that the author has researched or imagined in great detail. I find myself wanting to read more of that world.

Sometimes in writers circles this focus on detail is described as "show, don't tell. I don't want the author to tell me the diner is a dump. I want to taste the flat Coke. I want to feel the sticky syrup on the faded plastic menus. I want to hear the flies buzzing every time the kitchen door opens. When I see the details, I get lost in the world.

I feel like story ideas are a dime a dozen. Anybody can imagine an epic journey, a wild adventure, or star-crossed lovers. But the devil is in the details. To write a good story, you must become intimate with the world you are trying to create. You must create dozens of scenes, filled with rich, vivid details.

The big picture is good, but the details are vital.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Snow Canyon Half Marathon

Two months ago I watched my wife finish the Top of Utah Half marathon. I was sidelined with some medical issues and hadn't run in almost a year. But watching her finish made me want to get training again. We signed up for the Snow Canyon Half marathon, and I started to run.

Today was the big day. Last night we traveled down to St. George, sat in the hot tub while a freezing rain pelted the tops of our head, and went to bed hoping that it would be warmer by the start of the race.

Race day came early. Doesn't it always? I want to find a race that starts at 2:00 in the afternoon--so I can sleep in.

We rode the bus to the starting line. The rain from last night had cleared, but there was snow on the ground. SNOW ON THE GROUND. Seriously? This is St. George. I thought it was in their city charter that they can only have sun. I stepped off the bus and pretty much felt like this.

Only colder. Much colder. I walked around, beating my shoulders, and stamping the ground with my feet, trying to regain the feeling in my legs and arms. At 8:30, the race began.

I had a jacket and gloves on. As soon as I began running, and as soon as the sun hit me, I went from feeling cold to feeling like this:

That's right. I'm a sissy. It was cold the whole race. But not an uncomfortable cold. In fact, all jesting aside, I think it was just about perfect. Running kept me warm, and the frigid breeze kept me cool. It was fantastic. And as far as the scenery . . . I can't think of a more beautiful run than Snow Canyon. If you drive through Snow Canyon, this is what you'd see:

And if you were to bike through Snow Canyon, you might see this:

And if you're me, and you're running through Snow Canyon, this is what you see:

That, and a pair of shoes hitting the pavement about a million times.

I've been having leg problems for about two weeks, but while my leg bothered me the whole race, I never had to stop. In fact, I felt pretty good. I think I slowed down a little toward the end, but for the most part I was pretty consistent. I don't have a watch, so I can't be certain.

I've only run in one other half-marathon, and I beat my previous time. So all in all I'm pretty pleased. It's by no means an impressive time. In fact, they were already starting to hand out the awards by the time I finished.

My time was 2:08:42 (I'm particularly pleased with the 42). That is an average of 9:49 per mile. I never would have guessed I could run sub 10 minute miles for that long.

The only downside to that time is that it's so close to 2 hours, now I've got to try to break the 2 hour barrier. I guess that will be the goal for the Ogden Half next spring.

I didn't bring a camera, so I don't have a shot at me at the end of the race. I more or less looked like this.

Okay, okay. Maybe more like this:

And now . . . nap time.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Distance

At some point in our lives we all set goals. And then after we set out after those goals, we wonder if we can achieve them.

I'm a fan of the band Cake. They've got a distinct style, and one that grows on me over time. They have a song call The Distance, and I find the lyrics beautifully capture the spirit of striving for a goal.

The song starts by describing a race.

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
engines pumping and thumping in time.
the green light flashes, the flags go up.
churning and burning, they yearn for the cup.
they deftly maneuver and muscle for rank,
fuel burning fast on an empty tank.
reckless and wild, they pour through the turns.
their prowess is potent and secretly stern.
as they speed through the finish, the flags go down.
the fans get up and they get out of town.

So the race is over. There is a winner, but we don't know who it is. In this song, that's not important. Turn back to the arena to see the real message.

the arena is empty except for one man,
still driving and striving as fast as he can.
the sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
and long ago somebody left with the cup.
but he's driving and striving and hugging the turns.
and thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

The race is over. The man has lost, and yet still he drives on. We come to the chorus.

he's going the distance.
he's going for speed.
she's all alone
all alone in her time of need.
because he's racing and pacing and plotting the course,
he's fighting and biting and riding on his horse,
he's going the distance.

Winning isn't the important thing. By the end of the song we don't even know if this man finishes the race. Again, that's not important. What is important is the first line and the last line. He's going the distance. Going the distance doesn't mean that he's reached the goal--only that he's still working at it.

I love the second verse. It speaks to the doubt we all experience.

no trophy, no flowers, no flashbulbs, no wine,
he's haunted by something he cannot define.
bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse,
assail him, impale him with monster-truck force.
in his mind, he's still driving, still making the grade.
she's hoping in time that her memories will fade.
cause he's racing and pacing and plotting the course,
he's fighting and biting and riding on his horse.
the sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
and long ago somebody left with the cup.
but he's striving and driving and hugging the turns.
and thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

We all set goals. Then we strive for those goals. Some goals are realized. Others seem to always be just beyond our reach. So, do we stop reaching, or do we go the distance?

You can listen to the song here.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Runners and Writers

Runners are mad. I spent most of my adult life believing this. People step out of their houses. They run. And then they stop.


My wife started running when I was 36. She pulled me into the sport and I discovered that my assessment was correct—runners are mad. But it's a wonderful kind of madness.

Runners run in the dark. In the rain. In the snow. They run until common sense and every muscle screams at them to stop. And then they run some more. They run barefoot. They run up mountains. They race ten miles when the only things waiting for them at the end are sweaty clothes and some chocolate milk.

Writers are also mad. They write deep into the night. On short lunch breaks. They jot down notes on the bus. They talk to themselves. They endure endless amounts of criticism and rejection. They write for years when the only thing waiting for them at the end are a million words—most of them unread by the world.


I ran the Top of Utah Half Marathon last year. I trained all summer. I paid $100 for shoes, and another $50 for the privilege of entering the race. At the end of the 13 miles I got a key chain. I didn't care. I wasn't running for the prize at the end.

I've spent four years on a manuscript. I don't know where it's going to end up. I might get a contract. I might get nothing. But I didn't write it for the prize at the end.

Runners are mad. Writers are mad. But it's a delicious madness.

I love a good midnight run. Or a thorough sloshing through the rain. I will never forget a midnight run through the streets of Logan during a thunderstorm. These events remind me that I am alive. They remind me of what I can do.

I love when my characters surprise me. When the words flow, and I feel like I'm creating another world. When somebody reads a line that I wrote, and bursts into laughter. I will never forget the time a stranger approached me and told me of the time he had to pull his car to the side of the road because he couldn't see through the tears of laughter as he listened to my book.

Runners are mad. Writers are mad.

And that is why I run. And that is why I write.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crossing the Streams

I've started a new story. It's one I've been kicking around for about two years, and so far I'm still pretty excited about the project.

I've been trying to get to know my protagonist. For some this may be an easy thing, but I find it difficult. I have to really think about it. For months. I imagine what he would do in different situations. What he would say. I try to get deep inside his head.

This has proven to be a problem. You see, I'm trying to do the same thing for Juror # 11 (I know, yet ANOTHER post about the play). And quite frankly the two characters are very different. So I find myself in the play wanting to react like the character in my story. That doesn't work, because the character in the story would probably start beating on a few of the other jurors.

However, it's a good exercise for me. If I can't keep more than a single character in my head at once, I'm going to have a hard time writing novels. Unless the novel is about the sole survivor of the human race. Or a hermit. Maybe I should write a book about the Unabomber.

Opening night it tonight. We'll see which character shows up for the play.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Those who follow me on Twitter have heard a lot about the play I’m in. I promise I’m not going to harp on it forever, but I thought I’d mention one more thing that I find interesting about plays—from a writer’s perspective.

The character I play is a foreigner. There is a brief paragraph in the front of the script about what my character is like. But when you look at the actual script itself, there is very little direction as to how I deliver my lines.

Scripts are interesting beasts. You don’t have the luxury you do with books to use phrases like “his eyes smoldered” or “his voice was cold”. All I have are the lines. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to stand up, sit down, slam my fist on the table, or cry. The dialogue has to convey all of the emotion.

By the time the play opens, we’ll have run the play close to 20 times. There are lines of dialogue that didn’t make sense when we first went through the play. I read the line and wondered why it was in there. It didn’t make sense. But the more I performed the lines, and the more I got into the head of my character, the more the lines make sense. I came to the very pleasant and surprising conclusion that the author of this play very likely pored over every single line of the play. It feels almost like one of those Bev Doolittle paintings. At first glance you see one thing, but as you study it, you realize there is more there than first met the eye.

As a writer, this goes back to the whole show not tell idea. It’s easy to say, “Jim was furious.” It’s much harder to have Jim say something so that the reader understands that fury. But when it’s done well, it’s much more powerful.

That’s not to say you have to convey everything in dialogue. Sometimes a simple action can be just as powerful. Several folks in my writers group do this so well. They set the tone or emotion of a scene without ever having to say, “he felt”, or “he thought”. It’s harder to write this way. I can stack up the word count with the best of them, but I find when I try to focus on showing and not telling—when I’m really focused on dialogue not just to move the story along, but to give insight to character and emotion, it’s much more difficult. I find myself writing for an hour, with only a 300 word difference.

Words can do so much more than just express a fact, you just have to find the right ones.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Book Academy

I've been invited to present at the UVU Book Academy. I attended this conference last year, and was very impressed. It's always fun to hang out with other writers, and UVU puts on a good conference. It's a full day, and at $49 you can't beat the price. Register today, since it's the last day to get the early bird discount.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I like to think I'm in reasonable shape. I'm within 15 pounds of my high school weight. Last year I ran a half marathon, and although I've taken most of this year off (not by choice), yesterday I ran seven miles--the longest since last August. Today I went for a bike ride and went 25 miles--mostly because I'm not that bright--I should have stopped at 15. But you can't stop at 15 when you're still 10 miles from home.

So, tonight, when a neighbor called me up and asked if I'd sub on their indoor soccer team, I figured what the heck. I haven't played soccer since I was 12, but I can handle an hour of soccer. Right?

Yeah, not so much. This was me at the start of the game:

And this is me roughly 3 minutes into the 60 minute game:

Only it wasn't really muddy (it is indoors after all), and at no time was I actually ever without my shirt. I tried once, but the spectators started to complain.

Indoor soccer is HARD. But holy gravy is it fun. It's basically 60 minutes of sprinting, but since you're playing a game it doesn't feel like exercise. 

The neighbor who invited me was very helpful, and told me where to stand, and whom to guard. And in my head, I knew exactly where I should be. But I couldn't get my body to exactly go along with the plan. My head would say something like, "Legs, go over there and guard that woman. The one who looks to be in her sixties." And my legs would say something that I can't repeat here because my blog is family friendly. Let's just say it's not polite.

Anyway, I had a heck of a time, and I'm now an official substitute for The Mosquitoes. So on top of my day job, my writing, TwHistory, the play, my family, and eating and sleeping, I can now add soccer to the list of things that I'd love to spend more time doing. I'll just have to adjust a few things, and I'll be good to go.

Who needs sleep anyway?

Friday, September 16, 2011

12 Angry Men

Three years ago I had the chance to perform in a production of 12 Angry men. I'd never been in a play, and I fell in love with acting--or if not acting, whatever it was that I did out there on the stage.

When the director invited me back to reprise my role, I couldn't say no--even though the commute to and from the theater is two and a half hours.

I got a call from the Ogden Standard, wanting to do a quick interview about the play. The reporter asked me some easy questions, and then threw me a curve ball. "Why do you like the movie so much?"

I'd told her just a moment before that 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda is one of my top three favorite movies of all time.

But I didn't know how to answer her question. I hadn't given it a lot of thought before, so I threw out the first thought that popped into my head. And now that I've had a few days to consider it, I think my first thought was right.

12 Angry Men is really about one man. One man who stands up against eleven other men. Juror number eight has a lot of redeeming qualities. He is not afraid to stand up to a crowd. He's smart. He can't send a man to die without at least "taking about it first."

But the reason I like the character so much is the way he goes about making his case. Almost all of the jurors at one point or another get angry. But not juror number eight. He keeps calm. He lays forth his case with refreshing sincerity and honesty. He asks hard questions. There are times when he doesn't have the answers, and he freely admits it. He says that he doesn't know, but that "it's possible."

When the reporter asked me why I liked 12 Angry Men, the Republican debates were fresh in my mind. We're closing in on an election year, and the fighting between the parties seems particularly harsh. Voices from both sides seem more concerned about making the other party look bad, than to find common ground.

I wonder what would happen if all of us--left and right--freely admitted that sometimes we just don't know? Or what if we asked the hard questions? Or really listened to--and kept an open mind about--the answers? What if we put aside the snide remarks? What if we didn't worry about our "team" being right, and instead were open to new ideas.

In 12 Angry Men, we get a happy ending. The jury ends up unified.

Unity. I told the reporter from the Ogden Standard, that when it comes to America, I'd like to see a little bit more of that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Favorite Edit

I've decided that my favorite edit is edit number two. When you write for the first time, you're filling a blank page. It's enjoyable, but hard.

But the second pass is the most fun. The structure is there, but it's usually weak. You add depth, emotion, and "meat" to the bones. The second draft is such an improvement from the first, and you feel like a master craftsman (or craftswoman, depending). It's an enjoyable experience.

My least favorite edit? That's easy. The last one. because by that point, you've been over the manuscript about a hundred times. #PainAndTorture

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


Tonight I stood in line with my wife and five boys for three and a half hours. The line snaked through a hot stuffy building. I was wearing a suit. I don't like suits.

At the end of the three and a half hours I shook a father's hand, and gave him a hug. I mumbled words that were far too inadequate to a mother who looked bone tired. And then my family and I stopped for a moment in front of a casket. We looked briefly at a boy who left his family and friends far too early. Three hours in line, and it was all over in two minutes. Was it worth it?

Of course.

Because that is what a community does. When my wife broke the news to us at dinner Saturday night, my seven-year-old burst into tears. He hung his head and sobbed. He didn't know the boy who had passed away, but he knew he was "from our church". That meant the boy was a member of our community. And so my son cried.

A community gathers when tragedy strikes. They mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. And when it seems no words can ease the pain and grief, still they come together in hopes that the small actions--all combined--will somehow lift the broken heart. The short note. The pink wristband. The flowers. All symbols of unity. Symbols of community.

We'll miss you Gabe. And we'll stand by your family to help them however we can.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trying To Decide

Almost Super, my middle grade superhero book, is nearly complete. My wonderful writing group has been giving excellent feedback, finding holes, and helping me really polish it up. I'm roughly 6 weeks from having it complete. It's now decision time. My book is done . . . what now?

Five years ago there wouldn't have been a decision to make. Brush off the ol' query letter, and start sending it out. But today, with Kindles, iPads, e-books, and the neo self-publishing movement, I'm torn.

Here are a few of the things I'm thinking about. I'd love your thoughts and opinions.

Print: E-books are in the news but print still rules the day. Amazon may sell more e-books than print books, but most of the money is still in paper. E-books only make up a little over 10 percent of total book sales. That percentage is growing, but no one seriously thinks that the printed book is going away.

The internet has helped with the two costs facing every author—up-front costs, and distributions. Print on demand means you don't need thousands of dollars to print your book. And e-books give you global distribution . . . sort of. In the end, you're still facing an uphill battle. You want your books to get into the hands of people who love to read, and where do those people hang out? The bookstore. You can sell your paper book online, but you'll never get the big sales until you're being pushed by Barnes and Noble, and you'll never get that until you have a publishing company behind you.

E-books and the internet are bringing about a lot of changes, but I think it's premature (and silly) to simply declare the old model dead. Changed? Yes. Dead? No.

Street Cred: Okay, I say this half in jest, but it's something that authors should consider. Finding an agent, and landing a good contract buys you credibility that is very difficult, if not impossible, to get if you self-publish. How important is this credibility? Six years ago I wrote a book. Writing a book did nothing for me. It wasn't until I landed a contract that things changed. I joined a writer's guild, I spoke at a local writers conference, and then was invited to emcee the event the following year. Now I'm doing  a podcast with two other awesome authors. None of this would have happened if I hadn't landed that publishing contract. The book would have been just as good, but I would have had none of those experiences.

What if I self-publish my book and sell 1,000 books a month. What does that mean? Do I have a good book, or did I just get lucky? Maybe I'm just good at marketing. Self-publishing has always had a stigma, and that is something you have to consider. If I land a contract with one of the big six, then that brings credibility.

It's kind of like a diploma. I know really smart people who never got a degree. And I know a lot of folks with degrees that could really benefit from a strong dose of common sense. But businesses still use the degree as a litmus test for who they hire. It's an easy way to measure. If I self-publish, it's not clear. If I land a traditional contract, it is.

Focus: If I land a contract, guess what I get to do? Write. I get to write more. I don't have to worry about covers, marketing, moving my book through the editing process. I can write the sequel I've already got outlined. My agent can negotiate rights, my publisher can work their magic, and I can continue to do what I love best--write fun and funny books.

If I self publish, I'll have less time to write. Or I'll have the same amount, but the other areas will suffer. I've written Almost Super and I want people to read it. I'd also like to make a little bit of money. I'll do neither if I neglect these other aspects of the process.

Rights: When you sign away your copyright, it's for a potentially long time. Technically, it's 70 years after my death. I don't think I'll be in much of a state to do anything with my rights when they enter the public domain. You have to remember that a publisher is not in the business of publishing good books. They are in the business of making money. Once they've thrown my book over the fence, there often is not a lot of incentive for them to do much more with it. They may print a few copies here and there to keep it "in print", and then pull in a few hundred dollars a year on e-books. If I want to try anything interested (drop the price, give away half the book for free, etc.), I have to get their permission. And if I get a small advance, the publisher may not really put that much effort into marketing my book. They'll do just enough to earn the money back, make a profit, and then they'll move on to the next big thing (Like Rob Well's book Variant, available for pre-order RIGHT NOW).

Royalties: Royalties for new authors are pretty low. 10-15%. Royalties for authors on Amazon are 70%. Big difference, but again, you must do your own marketing, cover, editing, etc. However, 70% royalties on a $2.99 book are better than 15% royalties on a $10 book. But 15% royalties on 10,000 sales are better than 70% royalties on 100 sales.

So there you have it. These are just a few of the thoughts I've had. I assume other authors out there are having similar issues. I'd love your thoughts and opinions.

I've commissioned a friend to make me a cover, so in some sense I've already taken the first step on the route of self-publishing. On the other hand, I keep itching to send this to agents. I want to find out if the book really is good enough to land a solid contract.

I guess I can keep polishing it, and then I don't have to make a decision.

In Flander's Fields

I forgot to blog about the fourth week of #PoetrySummer.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

I memorized this for two reasons. First, if I ever get around to playing my copy of Paths of Glory, I'll need a poem that I can quote to throw my opponent off his groove.

The second, is you realize what is in that last stanza, right? "If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep."

Sounds like a zombie apocalypse to me. And who doesn't like a good zombie apocalypse?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Poetry Summer Week Three

It's week three of #SummerPoetry. This week's poem is If, by Rudyard Kipling.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

I've always wanted to memorize this poem, mostly because I have five sons. But as I memorized it, I realized there are several good bits for writers in there.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

Early in my writing career, I met with triumph. I had several teachers--and of course my mother--who said I had a "talent" at writing. I started to believe that I was a born writer. I started to believe I'd have an easy road in my writing career. Work? That was for people who didn't have talent. And I had talent.

And then of course, I met with disaster. I realized that my writing wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be if I wanted success. I needed to work at my writing--to master the craft.

I should have met  both triumph and disaster the same. I was/am a writer with strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't really matter what others say about me, good or bad. I'm the same writer at the end of the day.

And then of course there are these lines:

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you want to be a writer, the first ten years will be spent watching the "things" you gave so much time to broken. A good critique group will tear them down, not because they are cruel, but because your work will not be good. A successful writer is the one who can bear to watch their work torn apart, and then stoop, and start again with wornout tools.

It should be noted that the "wornout tools" bit especially applies to those who are still using Word Perfect.

I've got some ideas for a few other poems to memorize, but if any of you have a favorite, I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Poemtry (pronounced Poem-Tree). That is what my kids called it when I pulled out Shel Silverstein and read to them, back in the day.

Dan Wells is memorizing a poem every week during the summer. He invited other folks to participate. Rob Wells, not to be outdone by his older brother, joined in. That wasn't enough to push me over the edge, but when Sarah Eden joined the club, I caved. When my two co-hosts on The Appendix are memorizing poems, it's time for me to suck it up and wade into the mental fray. Otherwise they will mock me during the breaks when we're recording. You think they are all nice by the way they talk on the podcast, but as soon as the microphone goes off, they start making fun of me. Mostly about my beard. Sometimes Sarah kicks me under the table.

But I digress.

I served an LDS mission. Our particular mission was big on scripture memorization. You had to memorize 30 scriptures before you could drive a car. I struggled with memorizing scriptures. I would read a verse over and over and over to no avail. When I finally did memorize a scripture, I woke up the next day and realized I'd forgotten it all.

But I pressed on. Mostly because I wanted to drive. You won't pick up girls if you can't drive the mission Ford Escort station wagon. The more I memorized, the more I found that it came easily. The first few scriptures would take me weeks before I finally got them. Toward the end of my mission, it become much easier. I remember very distinctly writing down a scripture I wanted to memorize. After I finished, I read the whole thing, line by line. I flipped the card over and realized that I could recite it after only one reading (and one writing). It's the closest I've ever come to a photographic memory. By the end of my mission, I had over 300 scriptures (over 500 verses) memorized. I kept them in a box, and would recite each one at least once a month.

I've gotten out of the habit, but I'm looking forward to a little exercise. I'm a week behind, but I've already memorized my "makeup" poem.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Why did I choose this one? I think it's obvious. It's a sixteen line poem but . . . THE LAST TWO LINES ARE IDENTICAL! I only had to memorize fifteen lines! I get all the glory of a sixteen line poem, but only had to memorize fifteen lines. I'm laughing all the way to the poem-memorizing glory bank.

For my second poem, I'm choosing a shorter one, but still a favorite. It's a Shel Silverstein, and the goal is to have it by Sunday.


Listen to the MUSTN'TS child,
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


It's been a while since I've posted. It's been a crazy spring. More on that later, assuming I ever find the time (right now, it's not looking good).

However, I had to share this video we had made for TwHistory. It's a great overview of what TwHistory is, and how it works.

Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Smart Lottery

I don't think much of lotteries. Study after study has shown that the people who play lotteries are those who can't afford it--the poor and uneducated. They also spend a larger percentage of their income on tickets, making it a kind of regressive tax.

I was listening to a Freakanomics podcast the other day, and heard what I think is one of the best ideas to come along in a long time. It's called a prize-linked savings account. It's changed my mind about 'lotteries', and I think it's time Utah allows this kind of lottery.

Let me explain.

Americans, on average, spend more than they make. We like to put things on our credit card. When bank accounts get drained, many people often become desperate and play the lottery, hoping to strike it rich. And of course, the odds are against them, and they only end up deeper in the hole.

What Americans really need to do is save more. They need to put money away in case it's needed later. It's a simple concept, but one that millions just don't seem to get.

A prize-linked savings (PSL) account could be the answer to this problem. PSL is often called the no-lose lottery. The idea is simple. When you buy a lottery ticket you either win or lose. If you lose, you've lost all your money. If you win, you get more than you spent, but the odds are against you.

With a PSL, you put money in a savings account. Every month, the bank picks a handful of lucky winners, and gives them a large sum of money. The banks pay this money from the interest earned on all the accounts. If you didn't win, no big deal, you haven't lost a cent. You can either pull your money out, or you can keep it in for a chance to win next month. In other words, the only thing you lose is the interest you would have earned in a regular savings account.

The PSL idea was tried in South Africa with incredible success. Poor people, many of whom never even had a bank account to begin with, suddenly were pouring into the banks and putting money in PSLs. It was so successful, in fact, that the government of South Africa sued the bank, and shut down the program. Why? Because the government of South Africa runs a lottery, and they realized they were losing revenue. That's right, people stopped playing the lottery, and were saving money. And the government shut the program down.

Here in the states we're no better. It's illegal in almost every state to do something like PSL, because it competes with the state run lotteries. States don't want to lose money. Banks could encourage people to save, and American needs it's citizens to be more responsible with their money, but it's illegal because it would hurt State's bottom line.

Here in Utah, we don't have a lottery. Many people cross over to Reno, or up into Idaho or Colorado to play the lottery. Why not be trailblazers and allow PSL here in Utah? It would encourage our citizens to save, and it would very likely  keep more money here in the state.

I wouldn't use PSLs, because I think I can get a better return through careful investing. But for thousands of people who play the lottery, and see it as a wealth building strategy, this would be a much better option. Both for them, and for the rest of society, because they'd be more responsible, and would need to turn to social programs less often. The Legislature is in session. Let's allow PSLs here in Utah, and see what happens.

By the way, I linked to the Freakonomics article above, I highly recommend reading the whole article, as well as listen to the podcast (15 minutes or so). Michigan is currently experimenting with PSLs, with some intriguing results. Billie June Smith deposited $75, and won $100,000.

And everybody else? Well, their savings accounts are still full.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Something We Can All Agree On

I happened to be driving my son to scouts, and heard part of President Obama's speech at the Tucson Memorial. His words were powerful and moving. You can read the entire speech here, but I wanted to especially quote this bit:

When a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations - to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

And then this:

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That's what I believe, in part because that's what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called "Faces of Hope." On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life. "I hope you help those in need," read one. "I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles."

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.