All posts by Lars Walker

A fictional lie

Hunter Baker has written a very generous review of The Year Of the Warrior, which he has double-posted at his Southern Appeal blog and at the American Spectator blog.

Woo hoo!

(That, for the uninitiated, was a Moment of Optimism. I have them once or twice a year. I’ll keep you posted if it happens again.)

I forget how old I was, or what grade I was in, in elementary school. I forget who the teacher was (though I could make a guess).

She assigned our class to write a short story about Conservation. (Conservation, children, is what we used to have before we had Environmentalism. It was abolished because of its association with Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican.)

I sat down and wrote an easy, boiler-plate, Department of Agriculture Information Office-style tale about a farm family that teaches its old-fashioned neighbor a lesson in Crop Rotation.

I opened it with a line something like this:

“Neighbor’s complaining about his fields eroding again,” said Dad as he came in for supper.

When I’d finished, the teacher looked it over.

“You have to change this dialogue,” she said. “It’s not proper English. You have to say ‘The neighbor’ or ‘Our neighbor.’”

“But this is how people talk!” I protested.

“This is an English class,” she replied. “We write properly in this class.”

I knew it was wrong. I knew that no farmer in this hemisphere ever walks into the kitchen and says, ‘The neighbor…’ or “Our neighbor…” He drops the article. That’s how farmers talk. I lived on a farm. I knew these things.

But I changed the dialogue, because I was a child under authority.

There are people who claim that fiction is a lie, and therefore Christians must not write it.

They are wrong. Fiction is not a lie. Fiction is a shared creative enterprise, in which a storyteller and a reader collaborate to build an imaginary world on terms mutually understood. There is no deception involved, and therefore no lie.

But what that teacher made me do that day was a lie.

A long way to go for Chinese takeout

The books are in the mail. Congratulations to the Children of Fortune.

(You did all read the small print, didn’t you? The part where you are now enrolled in the Lars Walker Perpetual Book Club, and obligated to buy a copy of one of my books every month for the rest of your natural lives? And since there are only three published, you’ll have to purchase the same three over and over? You understood that? Good.)

By way of Mirabilis, this fascinating story about a 3,000-year-old Celtic mummy found in a remote area of China.

Can you imagine what this man’s story was like? What his world was like?

There would be a great novel in that story. Hope someone writes it.

But it won’t be me. I’d have to give myself a whole new education in ancient Celtic and Chinese cultures. I’ve been studying the Vikings my whole life, and I still often wonder whether I’m qualified to write Viking novels.

We dare to name names!

This is off the record, right? You’re not going to share this with anyone? I’ve got deniability here?

Because if this gets back to me, I’m toast.

But look at the slate of drawing winners. Examine it for a moment:

Roy Jacobsen. Blogger. The only other blogger I’ve ever met, as a matter of fact.

Michael Peterson. Blogger. (Not very prolific, I’ll grant you, but a blogger.) And a pastor of my own church body.

Omie. A Chattanooga resident. Who else lives in Chattanooga?

Coincidences? You make the call.

I insinuate, you decide.

Speaking of the drawing, I’d hoped to get the books in the mail today. I was going to take them to the post office near my workplace, after work.

Unfortunately I left them at home. Then I thought, “No prob. I’ll walk them over to the Robbinsdale post office, five minutes from my house, when I get home.”

I got there at 5:01. The place closes, I then learned, at 5:00.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

They’re going Media Mail, so it’ll take a few days.

The fact that I’m corrupt doesn’t mean I’m rich.

You young folks today don’t know what work is

If you were listening to Hugh Hewitt last night, you heard him and James Lileks broadcasting from the Minnesota State Fair in full Johnstown, Pennsylvania-telegraph-operator mode, sounding like the last survivors clicking away at their post as the mighty waters swept all away.

I was not there. I was at home in my basement office, working on my novel. But I can verify that it did indeed rain and storm quite hard. It got pretty dark and my electricity flickered once.

Not good baling weather.

I was thinking about baling on Monday, during my walk. Monday was a good baling day. I looked at the bright sun. I felt the heat. I thought, “This is baling weather.”

Let me explain to you about hay and straw.

Hay is what you bale at this time of the year. Or rather, what you used to bale. I don’t think farmers bale much anymore. They have new, arcane methods of putting forage up. I think they do it digitally now, since Dell Computer acquired International Harvester or something.

I still remember an old commercial for the Yellow Pages from back in the Sixties. It drove me nuts. It featured a stereotypical movie cowboy in a Roy Rogers costume singing to his horse. The final lines went, “…and the pages are yellow, like hay.”

No. No, they’re not.

Hay is not yellow. Hay is green. Hay is any grass (we used alfalfa) that you allow to grow tall, then cut and dry for storage over the winter, so you can feed it to the livestock. The bales are heavy, and they smell musty and organic, a little like scum on a pond.

Straw is yellow. There are various kinds of straw too, but we used oat straw. After the oats have been harvested, you cut down the stalks and bale them. They’re light to handle. You use straw for animal bedding. It is not eaten, unless the animals are really, really hungry.

Part of the confusion comes from “Away In a Manger,” I think. There’s that line that goes, “The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.” People sing that and think that sleeping on hay is normal. It’s not. Jesus was sleeping in a manger, a feed trough. Hay belongs there. Babies (usually) don’t.

Once hay has been cut, it’s raked into windrows in the field. If God wills, the hay will lie there and dry, giving you time to turn it over once with pitchforks, to expose both sides. If it rains at any point in this process, you can still use the hay but it won’t be as good, and it’s likely to rot or get moldy.

Then you take the baler out and bale it. Your baling equipment (ours anyway) begins (began) with a tractor pulling a baler, a long, low box on wheels with a conveyor thing on the front to scoop up the hay. The hay passed through the guts and got compressed and tied with twine. The bales were then extruded from the machine’s anus to one or two guys waiting on the wagon that followed. This job was generally mine and my brother Moloch’s, though our grandfather often came out to help.

The bales had to be stacked on the wagon. It was a flat wagon with no sides or front, but a tall back. The first level of bales would be laid down perpendicular to the length of the wagon. The next layer would go parallel (or vice versa. I forget). This was supposed to lock the bales, like staggering bricks in a wall. In fact, the bales always swayed, and the kid on top of the pile was never sure when the whole thing would tumble, sending him to the ground with a lot of heavy hay bales falling on top of him. But the stacker below had his own risks. When the hay was all stacked he would generally be left with about six inches of free space to stand on, as the whole assembly bumped back over farm lanes to the farmyard. It was an operation that would give an O.S.H.A. inspector nightmares, but we never complained. It was good enough for our parents and grandparents; who were we to be sissies?

People with big barns could generally just run their bales up a conveyor into the loft and dump them. Our barn was small. We didn’t use a conveyor but a contraption on a pulley called a “hay fork” (if I remember correctly, which I probably don’t). Eight bales at a time were clamped into the grip of the hay fork, then when the hay had been hoisted up into the barn, a trip rope would be pulled, releasing them. In theory. In fact, the fork either dropped the bales too soon or wouldn’t let them go at all a fair amount of the time.

At the end of the day’s baling, when all the hay was up in the loft, Moloch and I would climb up there and start stacking. Because of our lack of space, we had to organize all our hay in the loft, to get as much in as possible (what didn’t fit would get stacked in the farmyard under tarps, a less than ideal environment). It would be hot as a potter’s kiln up under that roof on a summer afternoon, hot not only from the air temperature but from the chemical action of the drying hay. It was the hardest, sweatiest work I’ve ever done in my life.

And that’s what I think of every year at this time.

An awning story to get you yawning

I had an odd feeling last night. I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of blogger who writes a lot about his feelings, but…

I guess I am.

Anyway, I was working on my Viking tent awning. I put together this non-historically-authentic, purely functional tent-awning thing to keep the sun off me when we’re doing encampments. I got the pattern off the internet. It’s a simple project, being built on a 9×12 painter’s drop cloth.

My first awning didn’t last long. I was pretty sure from the start that the fabric wouldn’t hold up to any kind of wind. It was thin stuff, like a 600-page novel written in six months. I wanted to reinforce the grommet locations, but I didn’t have any spare canvas. So I figured I’d make the first awning, then use it to patch the second once it had failed.

I’m not kidding you here. That’s how my brain works.

The fabric failed down in Bode, Iowa, and one of my vacation projects this week has been to whip up a new one. I bought the heaviest drop cloth I could find, and I used patches made from the old awning to reinforce the grommet locations, just as planned.

All that set-up exposition was provided to explain how I came to be watching “Criminal Minds” on TV last night, sewing away at a big piece of canvas with a large needle and heavy thread.

It came to me, all of a sudden, that this activity felt comfortable, familiar.

But I’ve never done it before in my life. Not on a big piece of cloth like the awning.

Then it occurred to me that I’m descended from hundreds of generations of Norwegian fishermen who spent a lot of time mending sails.

Genetic memory? (Possible.)

Incipient psychosis? (More likely.)

In any case, it was a strange enough feeling to blog about on a quiet, rainy August day.

A Land Fit For Criminals

Mike Johnson sent me the following link to a review by (the great) Theodore Dalrymple of the book A Land Fit For Criminals by David Fraser. It’s about the criminal justice system in Great Britain today.

He shows that liberal intellectuals and their bureaucratic allies have left no stone unturned to ensure that the law-abiding should be left as defenseless as possible against the predations of criminals, from the emasculation of the police to the devising of punishments that do not punish and the propagation of sophistry by experts to mislead and confuse the public about what is happening in society, confusion rendering the public helpless in the face of the experimentation perpetrated upon it.

My observation is that what happens in Europe generally works its way to America in time.

True or false: pick one

Romans 3:1-8 is a passage that’s always puzzled me. It’s not that I disagree with what’s said there, but Paul seems to be addressing First Century arguments that nobody would make today, and that confuses the contemporary reader.

But reading it today, it occurred to me that Paul is addressing the modern mind in one sense:

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. (vv. 5-8, NIV)

There are doubtless many deep truths in this passage that I’ve missed so far. That’s a given. But one point that struck me as I studied it today was that Paul is drawing a line here. He’s saying, “There is a difference between right and wrong. It’s not just a matter of point of view. It’s not variability in cultural values. God approves of some things and condemns others. He’s not broad-minded in the sense that’s fashionable today.

There’s a tendency to think of “spiritual” as being the same thing as “fuzzy.” In the spiritual realm, we imagine, all differences are smoothed out. All disagreements are discovered to be meaningless. Right and wrong are seen as equally valid manifestations of the Eternal. Yahweh and Baal are really the same Being, as is Asherah.

Paul says “Hooey.” God is just, and He has told us what He means by justice. Don’t imagine it’ll all even out in the end. Get with His program or suffer the consequences.

We’re all on notice.

First day of vacation

Today was the first day of my week off from work. I took a walk for exercise, wrote a thousand words, and picked up a few needed items, including a rat trap. I don’t have rats, but I have chipmunks attempting to take up housekeeping in my garage. My instinct is to live and let live (perhaps charging a nominal rent), but people tell me chipmunks are prone to gnaw on your car’s wiring, so I’ve declared Total War. Three chipmunks have been liquidated to date, and I felt it was time for a new trap.

I have a higher regard for my white squirrel. One day last winter, shortly after I’d moved in, I was talking to my brother Moloch on the phone, and I saw an albino squirrel in the back yard. On Saturday I saw him again, in the front yard. Albinos are rare in the wild, being pretty easy targets for predators, but I suppose an urban environment provides better cover.

I feel an affinity, for some strange reason, with any creature ill-designed for survival by nature.

By way of Blue Crab Boulevard, some very nifty, downloadable inspirational posters based on the original Star Trek. I love this kind of swill.

Several things, all of them bad

I don’t mean to rag on the Presbyterians as a group. I worshiped at a PCA church for some time in Florida, and it was one of the finest churches I’ve ever been associated with. But this story about the PCUSA (via Town Hall Blog) takes my breath away. It’s not enough for these people to apostasize. That’s appalling, but it’s sort of old news. We’ve come to expect it from them. But the PCUSA has published a book promoting the view that the Bush administration engineered the 9/11 attacks, a position generally held by people who’ve forgotten to take their medication because it fell through a hole in their raincoat pockets while they were fishing for lunch in a dumpster. From a materialist point of view, heresy is sort of understandable, because true doctrine can’t be scientifically proven. But these people have lost touch even with this-worldly reality.

Not that I don’t believe in conspiracies. I’m growing more and more convinced that the people who run road construction in the Twin Cities conspire to make their construction projects as inconvenient to the public as possible. Not for money. Not because of political corruption. But just because it’s so much fun to sit down around a map with their coffee and bagels and draw a red circle around a neighborhood, then pose the question, “How can we completely cut this neighborhood off from the outside world, blocking not only the primary but the secondary routes into it?”

Such is the fate of my pleasant little part of Robbinsdale. I dwell in a sort of a bottleneck—not the useful kind that could easily be defended if the Assyrians attacked (a possibility that grows more and more likely with the passing years), but a traffic bottleneck. I live to the east of a park. Not far north of the park is a freeway. Not far to the south is a lake. My workplace is to the west. The practical jokers tore up the main artery yesterday, while I was at work. I made the mistake of following their “Detour” signs on the way home, and ended up lost in Brooklyn Park. I’ve found a way to get home from work (and vice versa) now, but it involves passing through a construction zone.

Commenter Aitchmark sent me the following entertaining review. At his request, because he is a tenderhearted man, I have excised the name of the author and the title of the book:

I kind of enjoyed ___________’s recreation of classic kid SF in _____________, so I went into the online system for the library and put a hold on the sequel____________.

Well, there’s another book with the title ___________, and in some kind of mental glitch, I clicked the right title but the wrong author. So I ended up with a cop thriller called ___________ by a fellow named _____________.

One of the worst pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Unimaginably bad. Bad grammar, bad diction, one gaping howler of disregard for reality after another, plot transparently ripped off from another book….

Example — a burglar gets killed by a booby trapped clock that fires a 2-inch dart at him…. which injects 6 ounces of snake venom.

Must have been from a neutronium snake.

And the writing….

“The darkness enveloped him with the suddenness of an unexpected physical attack.”

“An investigation that had nearly gotten him killed but had brought him and Detective Edna Gray very close together.” (yes, that’s the complete sentence)

I can’t go on. It’s just too much.

This is the guy’s 5th published book!

I’ve read 37 pages (Carmen challenged me to read 50). I can’t decide whether to just take it back to the library, or keep slogging through it to see how bad it can get.

Be careful if you see this book. It may rub off on you. Like a virus. A big, nasty virus that hurts people and sometimes even kills them. Dead. And dead is forever. So you have been warned. In case it infects your brain and makes you less intelligent than you were before reading the terrible book, you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned emphatically by me. Who warned you to be careful and think before picking up this terrible tome.

(help me. please… help me. Send Shakespeare or something. Fast.)

The saga of sailor and the shoes

Yesterday I wrote about instructors who will always get their book orders in just after I’ve been on the phone with the publishers.

That puts me in mind of one of my favorite stories. I shall share it now, even though I know most of you have probably heard it before.

Because in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream.

The date was December 6, 1941. A young man took his shoes in to a shop to be re-soled.

The next day, of course, he forgot all about the shoes, because of the news of Pearl Harbor. He did his patriotic duty by enlisting in the Navy immediately.

He saw considerable action in the Pacific. One day late in the war his ship was torpedoed, and went down with great loss of life. Our hero managed to clamber into a lifeboat alone. He floated for days, finally washing up on the shores of a remote island, far from the shipping lanes.

For 25 years he remained on that island. He was listed as Missing In Action.

Finally a passing freighter saw his smoke signal and he was rescued. Back at home he was hailed as a hero.

His delighted parents showed him his old room, which they’d preserved precisely as it had been the day he left home.

After his parents had gone to bed, the young man looked through his well-remembered possessions. He tried on an old suit, put his hand in the pocket, and discovered the shoe repair claim ticket.

“Could the shoes still be there?” he wondered. “Only one way to find out.”

The next day he took a bus to the shoe repair shop. He found it still in business, and inside, older and grayer, he found the same shoe repairman.

“Are these shoes ready?” he asked with a smile, handing the old man the ticket.

The old man looked at the ticket, then went into the back room. A moment later he popped his head out.

“Have ’em for you Thursday,” he said.

Mission accomplished, sort of

Via Michelle Malkin: This historical evidence of Zionist perfidy.

I had a busy day today. I got in all my book orders for the fall, which means of course that a couple hours later, one last instructor came in with his list, which I’ll have to call in tomorrow. No big deal. But I know that if I’d made the order Monday, he’d have brought it in on Monday afternoon.

Now I’m going to reward myself by taking a vacation week starting Monday (pending my boss’s approval). I propose to go nowhere on this vacation. I’ll stay home, vegetate, and (hopefully) work on my book. Travel is nice, but staying home and doing whatever I like is the real luxury.

I’ll keep blogging, though.

When I feel like it.

The Big Law by Chuck Logan

Chuck Logan was recommended to me as a good thriller writer who, like John Sandford, lives in and writes about Minnesota.

I can’t say that I won’t read any more of his books. But I’m afraid I liked this one a lot less than I hoped to.

I would have preferred to start with the first book in the Phil Broker series, Absolute Zero, but my bookstore didn’t have a copy. So I went with Number Two, The Big Law.

I’ve written before about male fantasy figures as series heroes. I think Phil Broker (mostly) fits into this category. He’s rich as a result of finding a huge treasure of gold in a foreign land. He lives in his own big, rustic house on the shore of Lake Superior, having retired young from police work. Over his fireplace he has hung a Viking dragon’s head ship’s prow (that wins him points with me).

On the other hand, most male fantasies don’t include raising a baby singlehanded.

Phil has a wife, a female soldier (and hero). She has returned to active service and is currently serving in Bosnia (the book was published in 1998) when Broker gets involved in a case involving his ex-wife, Caren Angland.

Caren calls him unexpectedly, asking to come and see him. She’s frightened. She’s married now to Keith Angland, another cop and Phil’s former friend. She has proof that Keith is crooked. That he has taken money from the Russian mafia and murdered an informant.

As she flees her husband, Caren picks up a newspaper reporter, Tom James, who is supposed to document the story. But Keith follows and gets to Phil’s house ahead of her. In the violence that follows, Caren falls into a waterfall to her death, Tom James gets shot, and Keith is arrested for Caren’s murder.

But if that’s the end of the story, why do both Phil and his soldier wife get threatening letters shortly afterward?

And what happened to the money Keith got from the mob?

Chuck Logan is a good writer. The story builds tension nicely. The writing is fresh and sharp. Logan chooses his words carefully, and places them for maximum effect.

And yet… I had trouble caring much.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I couldn’t identify with Phil Broker. I can’t point to a single defect in Logan’s depiction of his character.

But I felt like I couldn’t get near the man. He never came alive for me. Even though he displays great passion in his concern to protect his baby daughter, he never gets my full sympathy.

I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be able to analyze these things. But I can’t identify what’s wrong here.

I’ll probably have to read another in the series to see if the problem is Logan’s or mine.

Once Upon a Time at the movies

Today has been gorgeous in the City of Lakes and its environs. The weekend’s blessed rains washed the humidity out, and the temperature stayed south of 80. This is what outsiders imagine a Minnesota summer day to be like, but it happens all too rarely in real life.

By way of Gene Edward Veith’s Cranach blog, I have discovered one of the funniest blogs I’ve ever read. Luther at the Movies purports to be film criticism as practiced by Dr. Luther, whose natural exuberance cannot be stifled by the mere accident of death. If this doesn’t win all you thin-blooded Calvinists over, I don’t know what will.

I bought the DVD of Once Upon a Time in the West a while back, and I watched it yesterday. What an incredible piece of work that film is.

If I were to read the things I’m about to write about a movie I hadn’t yet seen, I’d probably boycott it for life. Fortunately for me, I first saw the movie without knowing anything about it (I’d never even seen an Italian Western before), so I was caught in the majesty and sweep of the thing, and nothing I’ve learned since can cut that visceral connection.

It was 1969, my second year of college. I had an evening at loose ends, and decided I wanted to see a movie. This western was playing at the theater in Forest City, Iowa, so I walked downtown to see it.

It was the strangest western I’d ever seen. Parts of it troubled me a great deal.

But it stuck in my head as few movies ever have.

Westerns are generally “about” scenery, when it comes down to it, and OUATITW certainly lays the scenery on heavy. It was filmed both in Spain and in the United States, and director Sergio Leone used John Ford’s iconic Monument Valley to particular effect. On a big screen, the spectacle is breathtaking.

But even more than scenery, this movie is about music. One of the commentators on the DVD notes that the film was shot like a music video. Before there was a script, the genius Ennio Morricone, who’d already done the classic scores for the “Dollars” movies, wrote the music. The script was built on that. I’d nominate it as the greatest film score ever written, and there are those who agree with me (actually I agree with them, but I’m on an ego trip here).

They don’t make movies like this nowadays. Today’s action movies are all about speed. Forget plot consistency. Forget character development. Just put bodies in motion and crash them into each other a lot. Blow things up. Set things on fire.

Once Upon a Time in the West is purposely slow, like Henry Fonda’s walk. It’s about tension that builds and builds, from Charles Bronson’s shoot-out with three familiar gunmen at the beginning, to his and Henry Fonda’s climactic showdown, in a corral around which the whole world revolves.

Slowly.

Mysteries abound. What was Brett McBain’s secret? Why is Charles Bronson pursuing Henry Fonda, and what is the meaning of Bronson’s recurring flashback of a man walking toward him? How can any heterosexual male manage to spend time around Claudia Cardinale without spontaneously combusting?

There’s a political subtext, I’m afraid. At the time some people congratulated the Italian Westerns for bringing to us a newer, grittier, more realistic picture of the American West than the old Westerns had.

This is balderdash. Even granting that the old movies were bowdlerized (of course they were), that doesn’t mean that the kind of cynical violence and cruelty we see in spaghetti westerns is closer to reality. Cowboys were Victorians. Yes, there was a lot of prostitution in the West, but men still took their hats off to ladies, regardless of their reputations. Even cold-blooded killers like Kid Curry, or genuine psychopaths like John Wesley Hardin never killed innocent people for sport (not white people, anyway). They believed in virtue and considered themselves respectable men. Jesse James taught Sunday School off and on.

When Sergio Leone shows us Henry Fonda murdering a little boy, he has a purpose in mind. He wants Americans to think differently about themselves and their history. He wants the viewer never to be able to watch My Darling Clementine or Young Mr. Lincoln the same way again.

And he succeeded. More’s the pity, in my opinion.

But the spectacle. The music. I can’t get free of Once Upon a Time in the West.

Fuzzy-minded Friday

What will I do? I have nowhere to go this weekend. No Viking events. No battles. No family reunions. Just me and the house maintenance I’ve been putting off. It’s a pathetic man who has to make out his own Honey-do list.

I’m at loose ends. Here are a couple random links for you to study while I mutter and paw through my junk drawer in search of… I forget what.

Aitchmark, apparently having forgiven me for my anti-feline hate speech yesterday, sent me this amusing page from Merriam-Webster, with a list of favorite unofficial words.

Gene Edward Veith posted a link to this article about three new movies and an opera, all about Beowulf. No doubt they’ll all bomb, convincing publishers that no one’s interested in matters Norse, and assuring that I’ll never find another publisher.

Am I just sensitive, or isn’t it a form of racism to be unable to do a movie about an ancient Scandinavian without making the hero half black?

But I like Angelina Jolie for Grendel’s mother. I’ve always seen her as a kind of a monster. This is a woman whose appeal escapes me entirely.

To quote Oscar Levant, speaking of Madame Nu (at the time First Lady of South Vietnam): “She has all the wistfulness of an iron foundry.”