Writing a Novel

October 31st, 2014

A member of my writing group recently put out a request for those of us who have written novels to talk about our composition process and experiences. As preparation for that upcoming discussion — recognizing that I’m still discovering what worked and didn’t work in my one successful and other not-yet-successful novel-writing efforts — here are some top-level thoughts.

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Gifts of the Earth

October 1st, 2014

(originally written a couple of days ago)

For breakfast this morning I had some leftover bread pudding, with a bit of homemade plum syrup and whipped cream over it. Heavenly. Plus a small pear from our favorite orchard.

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Two Hours a Day

September 22nd, 2014

Spring and early summer were unusually busy for me, workwise. And then the middle of summer was largely taken up with a family vacation, helping my mother move, getting our house ready for my mother-in-law to move in, etc.

All that is mostly settled now, however. And the question now is, how much time can I realistically put into my creative writing? And will that be enough for me to get anywhere?

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The General and the Particular

September 10th, 2014

There are, speaking broadly (the irony of which will shortly be evident), two different ways of looking at and systematizing the world. The first — favored by theoreticians ranging from Newton to Marx to Freud to Joseph Campbell — involves the attempted deciphering of fundamental underlying codes that explain a broad range of phenomena. The second, in contrast, while it may accept the existence of underlying patterns, focuses on differences: particular instances, local circumstances, and the like.

I admit it. I’m drawn to the general theories. But as I’ve gotten older, I find myself increasingly skeptical about them.

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The Pusher (New Years 2004 Reprint)

April 23rd, 2014

Note: This is a reprint of a column I sent out, oh, 10 years ago now, purely for my own amusement…

The kids come, one and two at a time. Up the path, a furtive knock at the door. Down the stairs into the cellar, where the stuff is kept. Faces staring at the floor, with every appearance of shame. Then the fateful whispered words, from the addict to the dealer: “Can I have a book?”


It comes as news to precisely no one reading these columns that I am a book addict: bookworm, son of a bookworm, brother of bookworms, parent and spouse of same. There is little about bookwormish behavior that I don’t know, nothing experts can tell me about the symptoms that I haven’t observed at close hand. It’s all familiar to me. And of all of it, there’s nothing I know better than the urge to share the addiction with others.

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Paying Attention to the Words

April 17th, 2014

Last Sunday, I attended a performance of Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God by the Minnesota Mormon Chorale and Orchestra. It was surprisingly good — pretty much professional quality.

Of course, me being a writer and editor, I can’t simply leave it there. And in fact there was one small detail of the performance that stuck in my mind, and eventually led me to this keyboard — in musing upon language and scripture, and how familiarity and easy readings can dull our perception.

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New Writing Rookie post

April 11th, 2014

Hi all,

I’ve just posted a new “Writing Rookie” column (my first in two years!) over at A Motley Vision, talking about things I’ve learned (or not) over the last few years, and my current writing “method.” Rather than cross-post it here as I’ve done in the past, I’m choosing to lazily just put a link here.

I’d love any comments, either here or there. I’d love even more to feel like my novel is magically writing itself, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely…

Progress Report December 2013

December 13th, 2013

It’s been a while since I posted here. One positive reason is that September, October, and November were all heavy months for me, workwise (good for paying tuition!). There wasn’t much to report in terms of my creative writing. And there always seemed to be other projects demanding what time I could spare (like, say, cooking food for my family). But work has slowed down a little, and a lot of the things I could be working on are more or less “on pause” for now. And I want to spend some time documenting the shifts in my thinking about my creative writing during the last few months.


First, a quick recap on how I got to where I am. About 12 years ago, around the time I turned 40, I had a sudden sense that it was time to work on creative writing. This took me by surprise, as I had assumed this was one of those paths permanently not taken.

So I worked on several story ideas, including one idea for a large story (or set of stories) told against the canvas of a particular fantasy world. I did some worldbuilding and wrote a few chapters. It didn’t seem to be working, though.

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Book of Mormon Tropes

October 7th, 2013

Cross-posted at A Motley Vision website.

Wikipedia is a big time waster. (Not, I suspect, news to anyone here.) One thing leads to another, each article hyperlinking to another half-dozen, until before you know it, you’ve squandered another precious hour (to borrow a phrase from Tom and Ray Magliozzi) tracking down details of Urdu phonology, or something similarly abstruse. (Actually, I have no idea whether Wikipedia includes anything on Urdo phonology… wait… there is is.)


So, yeah, pretty much everyone who spends time surfing the Web knows how addictive Wikipedia can be, or YouTube. But I think I’ve now stumbled onto the mother lode, the heroin-mainlining of Internet addictions, at least for us devotees of the various literary/narrative media. I speak, of course, of TV Tropes, described on Wikipedia as

a wiki that collects and expands on various conventions and devices (tropes) found within creative works. Since its establishment in 2004, the site has gone from covering only television and film tropes to also covering those in a number of other media such as literature, comics, video games, and even things such as advertisements and toys.

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A Rhetorical Review of The God Who Weeps

August 16th, 2013

Givens, Terryl and Fiona. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak (an imprint of Deseret Book), 2012. 160 pages. $19.99 in hardback, $11.49 Kindle. Reviewed by Jonathan Langford. Cross-posted at A Motley Vision website.

There’s been a lot of fuss about this little book, co-written by Terryl Givens, a professor of English at the University of Richmond, who is one of Mormonism’s most prominent current scholars and apologists, and his wife Fiona, whom I believe he has referred to as an unacknowledged collaborator on his earlier work, which has included such items as the seminal study The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, published by Oxford University Press in 1997 (now available in an updated 2013 version); By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, also published by Oxford University Press in 2003; and People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, again from Oxford University Press in 2007.

I haven’t read those other books (though some are high on my list to read at some point), so I can’t compare the style of this book to Terryl’s earlier books. My assumption would be that this book is written in a less academic style, intended to appeal to a broader audience composed both of believing Mormons and non-Mormons with a potential interest in knowing what the basis is of Mormonism’s appeal to some of its thoughtful adherents.

Certainly the book succeeds in that. This is a book I think can be read and appreciated by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. In short: the book lives up to its hype. Paraphrasing the Pythons (but with less ambiguous intent), I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for those who quite like this sort of thing — which I think will include the bulk of literate believing Mormons, and many non-Mormons with a thoughtful and tolerant frame of mind. It’s already on my Christmas gift list for several family members. In fact, I just recently bought a copy for my mother, because I didn’t want to wait until Christmas to talk about it with her.

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