When I first thought about creating a blog to chat with readers and writers about fiction, Ian McEwan’s Atonement came to mind. McEwen wrote about a young girl who made a choice that tragically affected the lives of two people she dearly loved. She had seen them doing things she lacked the life experience to understand. For the rest of her life she would seek to make impossible amends. Hers would be a life would of deep regret and atonement.

McEwan’s work illuminates the inner struggle that lovers of serious fiction understand is cause and effect in a life. It puts before us the consequences of troublesome choices that push people past boundaries they shouldn’t cross and the internal boundaries they should. This is what I would like to talk about with folks beyond the reach face-to-face conversation. Stories about people making choices that affect others in troublesome ways and struggling to overcome and make amends, sometimes in unfortunate ways; about feelings of isolation and loneliness that push people to cross ethical boundaries – even taboos – in order to reach for something they need; about the ambivalence, uncertainty, and confusion that reflective folks know from the inside.

If you like stories that describe the struggles and resiliency of the human spirit, you might be interested in joining the conversation Follow Your Nose Fiction is intended to foster. Of course, that title suggests a particular way that the words can find their way to the page. Let’s talk about that, too. Let’s ask questions and share impressions. Of course, this blog will also acquaint people with my work. For me it will be delightfully self-serving!

For the first two months, I will aim for at least two posts per week. If a post leads you down a different trail than what it’s about, feel free to stray. After all, this website is called following our noses.

Let’s see where the conversation goes…and go there.



  1. You lead this reader to the subject of honesty. For most, honesty is a function of what’s at stake. You hand the clerk a $10 bill and the clerk gives you change for a $20. You’re honest and return the change (I have acquaintances who would pocket the windfall.) Now, contrast you, a well-known respected magistrate court judge, are driving down a dark, deserted country road at night. You’ve just come from the local tavern where you enjoyed a couple draughts. Suddenly, some old geezer holding a wine bottle to his mouth walks in front of your car. You hit him. You get out of your car to find he’s dead. You notice his tattered clothes and dirt under his finger nails. The honest action is to pull out your cell phone and dial 911. Then, you think of the investigation, the potential scandal, the media amplification, a destroyed career. You flee. Next day you read in the local newspaper that this homeless man was run over by a hit-and-run driver. The man was recently paroled after spending 35 years in prison for pedefilia. You’re still conflicted but you’re now buying your own rationalization. The world is better off without this bum. The honest thing to do is turn yourself in but no good can possibly come of it. You go on in life. You don’t forget but live with your dishonesty possibly passing sentence over someone who committed the same crime.


  2. Rock,

    You have hit at the heart of what motivates many people to read stories like “Atonement” and moves others to write about situations in which similar choices are made. In McEwan’s novel, it was a girl too young to understand what she witnessed who made the decision to report others (whom she loved) and get them in trouble. In your example, an adult with a position of great responsibility withheld what he knew to be true. A bit different than McEwan’s child, and yet both situations present the actors with, as you say, much at stake. Perhaps you will write that story! Or, given my background practicing law, I will steal it from you! On the other hand, in “Boundaries,” I have already tried something a bit like it. There, I focused on a lawyer’s choice, not a judge’s. This is the stuff serious fiction is made of. So often it’s about the consequences of choices. It’s what sends folks into stories and movies – better places, I think, to find understanding than discourse and analysis. That’s my preference because I think stories strike closer to the heart.

    Thanks for your comment. It’s what I’m looking for in my cyber coffee shop. Perhaps others will join.



  3. Jim, what do you know about the concept of “emotional iq?” Do you think you can make generalizations about different outcomes among persons with high vs low emotional iq, in terms of temptation/needs/wishes to cross boundaries?


    • Larry, that is a challenging question. I can only answer you in the context of “Boundaries,” which you obviously have read. (Thank you!) Both Sydney and Ben seem to have high emotional IQ’s. As I understand the concept, this means they have the ability to understand and recognize their own emotions and those of others and take take that ability into account in their thinking and actions. Yet they cross serious legal boundaries in order to get something they really want. Ben’s transgressions of the law almost get him in serious trouble, and at the end of the story we know they still might. Sydney’s violations could have the same effect. What matters to me is that I have challenged readers to decide whether they can care about Ben and Sydney and follow their story to the end. It’s not about excusing them but giving them “unconditional positive regard.” That was the subject of my post on August 18.

      Thanks for this great question. It reminds me that in my new novel project, “The Third Floor,” which is only in very rough form right now, I raise the stakes. It’s about twin brother and sister who might cross an even more serious boundary. I just might serialize it on this website.


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