March for Science

Here is a chant already underway for Saturday’s March For Science, a protest in D.C. and nationwide against the anti-science policies of the Trump Administration:

“What do we want???  Evidence-based science!!”

“When do we want it?? After Peer Review!!!!”

Even with the future of humankind and the Earth in the balance, scientists demonstrate their sense of humor too.

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea: A Discussion

Welcome to our IFN discussion of  The Devil’s Highway:

With the border between the U.S. and Mexico front-and-center in the news under the current administration, an immersive look at life and death in the desert and border towns offers us insights into the actual situation on the ground. The history. The players. The conflicts. And the story of the Yuma 14, men and boys crossing into the United States illegally, and what happens to them.

Urrea captures the story of death and despair in the Arizona desert, and asks how the tragedy of the “biggest die-off” on the border could have been prevented. Here are a few questions to launch our discussion (Feel free to offer up other comments, ideas and questions regarding the book’s language, theme, characterization, structure, pace or flow, etc.:)

  1. How does the landscape–the desert, the Granite Mountains, Sonoita and elsewhere–serve as character(s) in this story? What details or reflections on setting or space offer visual depth and insights into the story itself?
  2. Urrea often uses the vernacular of personas–the Border Control officers; the Coyote/guide, Mendez; Don Moi the ‘godfather;’ and the Mexican immigrants themselves–in various sections where they are introduced. This use of free indirect style (a story told in third person yet in the style of the character) can be tricky. How effective are these shifts? For example, does the harshness of words like “tonks” or “polleros” (p. 60) used on both sides to describe migrants reflect the harshness of border life? Overall, does Urrea still maintain a sense of an omniscient narrator?
  3. Urrea is a strong researcher and, as a novelist, a lyrical writer. List a few passages that reveal either the depth of his reporting, or his mastery of language and compelling images. For example, one powerful line that resonates for me: There are no illegal people on the Earth.
  4. Much of the story is told narrative-style, with the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Only at the end does Urrea delve deeper into the chaotic politics and organizational flaws that have led to an untenable situation. Was that approach effective? How would you describe his underlying tone throughout?
  5. How does Trump’s current concept for A Wall fit into this dialogue? (Urrea himself is flummoxed by suggestions to build a similar wall between Honduras and Mexico, for many of the same claimed reasons, jobs, etc.  (p.229). So now what?

IFN Discussion: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


Welcome to our discussion of the Civil War classic novel The Killer Angels, based on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  Through the lens of fiction, Shaara depicts the chief commanders and soldiers on both sides of the conflict, Union and Confederate. To do so, Shaara projects the real-time thoughts and conversations of such figures as General Robert E. Lee, Lt. General James Longstreet and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. With a writer’s and researcher’s eye, he brings to life factual material culled from journals, biographies, memoirs, and numerous other historical documents.

To start off our discussion, here are a few questions (below.) Feel free to respond to these, add your own thoughts, and comment on observations by your fellow writers. Because the issues here are Big, be sure to converse with the kind of mutual respect many of these figures seemed to display even in the throes of war:

1.) Describe the voice of a few of the characters, such as Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, Major General Pickett, Major General John Buford or others. Does the author’s narrative voice change when we see the battle through these men’s eyes? What elements of their character are shown via their gestures, words, action, or internal musings?

Is this multi-character viewpoint effective or not?

2.) Name a few transformational moments for the primary characters–as well as the battle itself and the plot of the story. (The events unfold in many ways like fiction even in the historical retelling. Why?) In the end, what themes did the outcome of the battle predict for the remainder of the war, and the trajectory of the nation?

3.) What parallels do you see between the Battle of Gettysburg/Civil War and the current political landscape? What do these three days tell us about modern history-in-the-making?

5.) What elements of figurative language do you find in the book, such as simile, metaphor, or symbolism? What passages of language are especially effective, or problematic?

6.) Overall, any other thoughts or points you’d like to make… (Also, please use first names or monikers when responding to a comment so we can keep track…I am jcscribe)