‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 2

“I was always told that the Centurion was a Roman named Longinus,” I said.

            “You were told wrong. The centurion was a Norseman named Vidfarna. Maybe they called him Longinus in the army. I know not. And the proof of my story –ˮ he paused for a lick – “is the Nail.”

            “The nail…” I said.

            “Yes.”

            “A nail from the crucifixion?” I gaped.

            “None other.”

            I stood up from the bench. “This has gone far enough,” I said. “I know I’m a mere foreigner, an Irishman among the Norse and a butt for jokes, but I wasn’t born after breakfast today. I’ll give you this, though – you tell a good tale.” I’d been looking for the chance to take a walk anyway – I needed to drain off my bladder.

            Baard stood with me and tugged the sleeve of my robe, getting grease on it. “I’ve had priests tell me the same thing before. But I can show you.”

            “You have it with you?”

            “It’s over in the church.”

            I looked at him. “You’re serious,” I said.

            “Before God I am.”

Continue reading ‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 2

‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 1

Avaldsnes (Augvaldsness) today. This church did not exist in Erling Skjalgsson’s time.

Thought I’d do a snippet of the new novel tonight. Not sure how long it will take to publish it, but it’s essentially written. Probably going to my Publishing Gremlin tomorrow. lw

Part One: The Crying Stave

Chapter I

            I recall it as the night of two visions. One vision was for the land, the other for me. Together they marked a turning place.

            And neither was for the better.

           We were feasting at Augvaldsness. If God blessed our efforts, matters would now be less tangled in the land. Jarl Erik Haakonsson, with whom Erling Skjalgsson could never be at peace, had returned again to England to serve his lord, Prince Knut the Dane. This freed Erling to renew his friendship with Erik’s brother Jarl Svein, whom he rather liked. Svein sat now as lord of the north of the land, under Denmark. We were crowning their friendship by handfasting Erling’s son Aslak to Svein’s daughter Sigrid. The two were young, but such betrothals were common, and the young people liked each other well enough.

Baard Ossursson, steward of Augvaldsness, was a man who liked his boiled pork. It was his habit to take a chunk from the platter in his big hand, squeeze it so the fat ran out between his fingers, and slurp the greasy runnels off as they oozed out. He was playing at that as we sat side by side, just to Erling’s right at the high table in the hall.

            “This is an important place, Augvaldsness,” Baard said to me between slurps. “The man who controls the strait here at Kormt Island can stop traffic up and down the North Way like a plug in a jar. The kings of Augvaldsness in olden times were the mightiest along the North Way. You can run outside the island, take the sea way to the west, but the weather out there’s chancy.”

            “I’ve heard of King Augvald,” I said. “The one who worshipped his cow.”

Continue reading ‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 1

The red borders of time

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas, @jeremythomasphoto

Strangest new year of my life, I think. This one’s “driving me alee” (as I have a character say in my Work in Progress. I’m not even sure it’s a real nautical term).

It’s not a bad new year. Quite the opposite, so far as I can tell. I’m having a good time. But it’s going too fast.

A new year is a tug on the sleeve from Mortality, telling you, “You’re running out of time.” If my life were one of those rolls of receipt tape in a cash register, I’d be seeing the red borders they put on those things, down near the core, to warn you the roll is running out. It doesn’t mean the end is imminent. It would be wasteful to change the roll now. But it means you should check your supplies, to make sure you’ve got another roll ready, because The End Is Coming.

The other day it occurred to me – I’m living the dream. All my life I’ve wanted to write from home for a living. And that’s what I’m doing now (translating is a form of writing, and one I enjoy). I don’t dread Mondays anymore – in fact, I prefer weekdays to weekends in this new dispensation.

Which means the weeks whiz by.

Back when I was toiling my way toward an ultimately useless master’s degree, I had one consolation – the slowdown of time. Einstein is famously supposed to have explained General Relativity by saying that a minute goes a lot faster when you’ve got a blonde in your lap than when you’re sitting on a hot stove. (Nonsense, I think. It’s true, but that’s a psychological and perceptional phenomenon. It has nothing to do – so far as I understand it – with Einsteinian relativity. Much evil has sprung from this error.) Those two-and-a-half years in the salt mines of academe felt like five to me. There was some satisfaction in that, at my time of life. Now, every week feels like a day. And I haven’t got that many weeks left.

The solution, of course, is obvious. I need to suffer more.

What could go wrong?

Suit Refiled against Tyndale House over Supernatural Tourism Book

Alex Malarkey was publicized as The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven in a book written by his father with him as co-author. In 2015 Alex denounced the story, and the books were pulled from stores. Last April he sued Tyndale House for defamation and deceptive trade practices among other things for a total of seven complaints. A judge dismissed five of the complaints. Now Alex’s attorney has filed three more complaints: appropriation, publicity given to private life, and financial exploitation of a person with a disability.

If you don’t remember this story, you can start reviewing it in “Boy Denies He Returned from Heaven.”

‘No Second Chance,’ by Harlan Coben

Conner nodded, pleased by my response. I love him. He breaks my heart and brings me joy in equal measure and at exactly the same time. Twenty-six months old. Two months older than Tara. I watch his development with awe and a longing that could heat a furnace.

Harlan Coben has a winning formula for turning out thrillers that grab the reader. He starts with love – love for lovers, for spouses, and (especially) love for one’s children. Then he asks, “What do we fear the most for these people?” Then he takes that fear and distills it, producing at the end of the coils a spirit that burns like carbolic acid. And he applies that spirit to some innocent, fairly decent protagonist.

That, my friends, is how story-building works.

No Second Chance stars Dr. Marc Seidman, plastic surgeon, who wakes up in a hospital room to learn he’s been in a coma for weeks. He was shot in his own home, and barely survived. His wife, also shot, did not survive.

And his infant daughter Tara vanished like smoke

The police have no leads. Their best theory is that Marc himself engineered his wife’s murder, but that theory makes no sense, and they know it.

Then a ransom note comes to Marc’s wealthy father-in-law. He and Marc agree to involve the police, but they will regret it, because the cops get spotted, the kidnappers get away with the money, and Tara remains lost.

The next time a demand comes, eighteen months later, they leave the cops out. But Marc instead brings in someone from his past, a former FBI agent he dated in college and nearly married. Working with an old lover can be a complication in any endeavor – but this time it might blow up in all their faces.

I like most of Harlan Coben’s books, and I liked No Second Chance more than most. The plot is very complex, but it’s revealed in layers, which kept this old man from getting confused (I like that). There were also some intriguing side characters, like a former child actress turned stone-cold-hitwoman, and a mullet-wearing, NRA-member, redneck who turns out to be good friend to have in a corner (this book is a few years old. I wonder if Coben would have the nerve to include such a character in a novel today).

Highly recommended, with cautions for intensity.

‘John Clum, Apache Agent, and It All Happened in Tombstone,’ by Woodworth Clum

When, as often happened, one of the raiders lost his mount, he would proceed, running on his own feet, being careful not to set too fast a pace for the ponies.

Recently I saw an old Audie Murphy movie which, even within the canon of Audie Murphy’s ouvre, was fairly non-memorable. Walk the Proud Land was an attempt on Murphy’s part to broaden his range through playing, not a gunfighter, but a man of peace. That man, a genuine historical character, was John P. Clum. The movie failed at the box office in its time, but it succeeded in piquing my interest in a man I’d wondered about before. I knew John Clum as editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, mayor of Tombstone, and a staunch friend of Wyatt Earp. I’d also read he was a devout Christian. I’d been mostly unaware of his exemplary career as an Indian agent.

John P. Clum was a Dutch Reformed boy from a farm in New York state. Intending to enter the ministry, he attended Rutgers University, but had to drop out due to lack of funds. His education did earn him a job as a weather observer for the US Army Signal Corps in Santa Fe, New Mexico, however. This led, through a college connection, to his appointment as Indian Agent at the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.

Clum was 22 years old when he arrived at San Carlos, not entirely sure what he’d find. In general, he was pleasantly surprised. He found the Apaches, by and large, decent (by their lights) and hard-working people, scrupulously honest, and historically eager to be friends with Americans (it was the Mexicans they hated). John Clum, Apache Agent, and It All Happened in Tombstone (a compilation of two books) begins with a narrative of United States relations with the Apaches, and it’s a sad and painful story. For every American willing to treat the Apaches decently, there seem to have been ten who, motivated by greed or bigotry, lied to them, cheated them, or killed them like animals.

Clum set about earning the Apaches’ trust, helping the decent ones and punishing  the (minority of) bad actors. In time he was able to set up a working self-government system. He was particularly proud of his efficient Apache police force, which operated with distinction and crowned its achievements with the capture of Geronimo (the only time – as Clum takes pains to point out – when he was captured without voluntarily surrendering).

In time, however, bureaucratic interference and changed Indian policies left Clum with no alternative, in his own mind, to resigning his post and leaving the reservation. The later history of his Apache friends is sad to read.

There is considerable pride in Clum’s account, along with great contempt for narrowminded and bigoted Americans who spoiled what might have been an exemplary peace. The only character Clum seems to hate more than these bureaucrats is the “bad Apache” Geronimo, whom he describes as a liar, a master manipulator, and a merciless killer. He is particularly offended that his friends ended up sharing Geronimo’s fate of exile and imprisonment, without the advantages that Geronimo enjoyed – celebrity status and income from souvenir sales.

The later part of his book is Clum’s own account of his career as mayor and editor in Tombstone, during the fabled days of the Earp-Clanton feud. He is staunch in his support of Wyatt Earp (who would seem, on the face of it, an odd friend for a good Dutch Reformed boy), and (regrettably) his account varies not at all from the well-known (and much-questioned) version told by Stuart N. Lake in Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal. What will be fresh for most western buffs is Clum’s own account of what he believed to be an assassination attempt against himself on a stage coach run, when he ended up leaving the stage and proceeding on foot, to be less of a target.

The book John Clum, Apache Agent was not written by Clum himself, but was edited by his son Woodworth Clum, from his father’s unpublished papers and reminiscences. The prose is not bad – generally avoiding the excesses of Victorian baroque. The main problem with this electronic edition is that it was obviously produced through OCR transcription, so there is the occasional misread word – as well as entire lines of text getting lost now and then. But it wasn’t enough to spoil the story as a whole.

If you’re interested in the Old West, John Clum, Indian Agent, and It All Happened in Tombstone makes interesting reading. I suspect Clum left out some of the juiciest – and/or most appalling – details, so the book is suitable for most readers.

‘New Year comes but once a twelvemonth’

This is something of a commonplace post for the year ahead with quotations taken from my withdrawn library book of quotations, that wealth of knowledge and marginalia about which the impoverish youths of the world have not a clue. Happy New Year.

For the life to come, I sleep out the thought of it. – Autolycus in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
– Lewis in Shakespeare’s King John

When the tree is fallen, all go with their hatchets.

I have learned thy arts, and now
Can disdain as much as thou.
– Thomas Carew, “Disdain Returned”

On finding a wife:

  • Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye.
  • Choose your wife as you wish your children to be.
  • Choose a good mother’s daughter, though her father were the devil. (The latter two come from Gaelic proverbs.)

Who riseth from a feast 
With that keen appetite that he sits down? 
Where is the horse that doth untread again 
His tedious measures with the unbated fire
That he did pace them first? All things that are, 
Are with more spirit chased than enjoy’d. 
– Gratiano in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Turn your tongue seven times before talking. (Originally French)

What is new is seldom true; what is true is seldom new. (Originally German)

Brief Review of Avengers: Infinity War

We watched Avengers: Infinity War today (it appeared on Netflix last week). I don’t want to recap the plot and offer a bunch of spoilers. What’s the point of that? Three quarters of those who want to see it have already seen it. I’d just like to take a moment for a few thoughts.

  1. I still like comic book movies, but nonstop fantasy fighting gets old. Watch the Ip Man movies about the founder of Wing Chun and something of a superhero in his own right for several good, made-for-movie fights. The second season of Iron Fist had good fights too.
  2. The more power you give someone, the more difficult it is to watch him fight.
    Frank: “I can stop any attack with a mere thought.”
    Bubba: “And I’m going to shoot you in the head!”
    Frank: “Ha ha! You’ll never get –” [BANG]
    Budda: “Didn’t see that coming, didya punk!”
    [Spoiler] Did we see Thanos beat up the Hulk at the beginning? How is he breaking a sweat with these other guys? I hear that answer from the back. Convenience is correct.
  3. [Spoiler] I’ve haven’t read many comic books, and I know there are some bad ones out there, even among the good heroes. Still I am glad to learn the plot of Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t come from the comics. The story of Thanos and his quest to save the universe from itself begins in the books at the place the movie ends, not after a massive failed attempt to stop him but after his success quest to obtain all six infinity stones without the Avengers knowing about it. That’s a lot better than the story we’re given in this movie because of one overused formula.
  4. At the very beginning we see a character say he has one of the great-and-powerful stones and he would give it up to save the life of someone else. That formula is used twice more and a third time in reverse. Did we focus group other rationales to advance the plot and them all unbelievable? That gets as old as the hour-long battles and is probably the weakest part of this movie.
  5. The parody How It Should Have Ended proved its genius again.
  6. The last thing I’ll say is long movies like this make me want to take a hike in the real world. I’m not sure my new shoes are the right thing for hiking though. Maybe I could find alternatives.

Monk Day

Today is Thursday. That’s Monk Day for me.

As you know (always a dangerous phrase in a story, but this is real life, where you can get away with lots of nonsense), I am currently a free-lance translator. I work from home, setting my own hours – something less ideal than it sounds. I either work quite long hours, or sit around worrying about not working.

But that’s beside the point. The point is that I work in a manner pleasing to myself – usually in sweat clothes on my sofa (sometimes, for exercise, in an easy chair), with the TV on. I have a current TV routine. The H & I Network runs mystery marathons in nine-hour blocks, five days a week. Thursday is Monk Day. Nonstop Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive police consultant, whose frailty enables him to see things others miss, even as he barely functions as an adult.

This is a character I identify with.

But that’s not exactly my point either.

I’ve had multiple opportunities to view the two-part pilot episode, and the plotting impresses me a lot. I think it’s a very good example of exemplary character plotting.

We have our “hero,” Adrian Monk, who is afraid, essentially, of everything. He has a long list of phobias, but chief among them is his fear of dirt and germs. He keeps his personal space immaculate and meticulously organized, and can’t even shake hands without wiping down immediately with a towelette. He has a nurse/personal assistant who serves as his mediator with the world.  Her name is Sharona (she is replaced in the third season, but that doesn’t matter here), and she’s more or less his opposite – she’s an earthy New Jersey girl with a blousy style and considerable street smarts. They annoy each other immensely, but each also provides the other with things they need. In spite of themselves, they care for one another – non-romantically.

So in the pilot episodes, the writers set up a perfectly splendid dilemma for Monk. Sharona is kidnapped by a murderer, who drags her off as a hostage – into the sewers of San Francisco.

This constitutes an existential crisis for Monk. His whole life (and his survival, in his own mind) depends on keeping clean. But now he has to climb down into a sewer, where he must encounter sewage, or possibly lose Sharona.

This is splendid character plotting. Monk’s choice is not only agonizing (in a comic way), but it’s germane to the character established in the story. He is tested at his weakest point. He’s forced to leave his comfort zone, to do what he believes he can’t do. His choice to follow into the sewer (you knew he’d do that, didn’t you?) is in actuality an act of faith.

Dramatically, it’s far superior to the more famous “Sophie’s Choice.” Sophie’s choice achieved drama purely through its extremity, but revealed nothing about her character and taught her (and the reader) nothing but despair. The author who counsels despair is like the debater who ends the argument with a punch in the face. It’s effective, but nothing is learned.

Monk is good for you. Good for me, anyway.

‘A Good Death,’ by Chris Collett

I think I’m caught up on Chris Collett’s Inspector Mariner police procedural series now. All the books to this point have been titled (or re-titled; at least some were originally published under different titles) with names including the word “Lies.” Now they’ve come out with a new book that breaks the pattern – A Good Death is the eighth book in the series.

I found this one a tad stressful, because it dealt with religious people more than earlier books. One Christian and one Muslim family are involved and – predictably, in our times – the Muslims appear somewhat more admirable than the Christians. Though the author doesn’t take a hatchet to either side. Inspector Mariner makes a dismissive comment about “God-botherers” and one point, but that’s consistent with his established character. He doesn’t “get” religion – like most Caucasian Europeans.

A Good Death involves the investigations of three separate deaths. There’s the death in a house fire of an elderly Muslim patriarch – quickly identified as arson. This is complicated by the discovery of a second body in the ashes of the same fire.

Then there’s the disappearance of a wealthy young man, just before his wedding date. I figured out, if not the culprit, at least the motive (kind of), quite early on. However, oddly enough, I deduced it from the wrong piece of evidence. (Am I brilliant, or what?)

The Inspector Mariner mystery series is a solid one. A Good Death was not my favorite of these books, but in spite of my comments on the handling of religion, it was not offensive. Recommended, with the customary cautions.

Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church IN CHENGDU, China

Our technology has allowed us to expand our awareness to the entire world, making requests for prayer seemingly boundless. I hesitate to say this is the biggest prayer request of the month, but the persecution of Early Rain Covenant in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, is something important to pray and praise the Lord over. I copied their Christmas Eve update below. Here’s a letter from earlier this month for more context on the government’s unlawful routing of their congregation.

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matt. 2:13-15)

Like the “White Terror” during the first Christmas, brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church, as members of the Lord Jesus, are currently walking the path that the Church’s Head once walked. Authorities are continuing to suppress Early Rain Covenant Church through everything from criminal detention, administrative detention, enforced disappearances, stalking, and financial pressure to the seizing of church property. 

On Christmas Eve, the 23rd-floor sanctuary of Early Rain Covenant Church was taken over by the Chengdu Qingyang District Shuangyanjing Community Police and converted to a community police office space. Linxishu Church, a church plant of Early Rain Covenant Church, was seized by the Pidu District authorities and community police. The church property at Enyue Church, another church plant of Early Rain, was cleared out by New Tianfu District authorities. The current church spaces were privately purchased or rented. As long as the civil contract has not expired, no one is allowed to alter or cancel it without the permission of both parties. Officials and local governments have violated both the law and morality. They have stolen nearly 1000-square-feet of real estate without paying one penny. 

And yet, Lord, we still praise you. Lord’s Day worship at Early Rain Covenant Church was observed in the homes of families and small groups called and set apart by the Lord, as well as other locations. Some brothers and sisters were confined to their own homes. One small-group’s worship was interrupted by police. A total of 20 people (including 8 children) were all taken to the police station. They returned peacefully to their homes the same day. Another small group was forced to change locations. Yet another was spoken to by police after the meeting ended. In these difficult circumstances, the Spirit of the Lord has been feeding, strengthening, and challenging everyone through Chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel and through His servants who are in the middle of these trials and tribulations. 

Continue reading Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church IN CHENGDU, China

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