"I said, 'I will guard my ways,/ that I may not sin with my tongue; / I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, / so long as the wicked are in my presence.'"

- Psalm 39:1, English Standard Version
Advent Ghost Stories 2014

"There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long. long ago."

Loren Eaton hosts another round of ghost stories centered on Christmastime. There are many here, and Loren has a couple himself. Note this on called "Elizabeth." Enjoy and post your comments.

Is a Content Creator Required to Interact with Readers?

Matthew Ingram argues that media companies, particularly content creators like Reuters, should allow their readers to comment on articles. If they don't, they are shutting out potential fan support.

Reuters recently removed its comment section, saying self-policing social networks were already handling lively discussion well so they didn't need to duplicate the effort. Ingram says by doing this, Reuters is handing a large slice of market value to Facebook and Twitter (among other networks) as well as move any arguments over an article onto other venues where Reuters' writers will have to decide how to respond on their own. He explains:

Is moderation a pain, and an expensive proposition? Sure it is. Lots of things that matter to your business are expensive. And if you have an engaged community, they can become your moderators, as successful online communities like Slashdot and Metafilter have shown — which in turn helps strengthen your community. Ending comments means removing any chance that this will ever happen.
A news service probably needs all the love it can get. Does Reuters really want their writers to tweet their defense of contentious reports or take the debate to Medium?

If These Old Bones Could Talk

Loren Eaton has written a short story for a collective Halloween storytelling event. It's a story of a young girl who discovers she hears and experiences things when she touches the bones of deceased animals. It's a bone-chilling (heh, heh) idea which rings true in sad way. If we didn't have a culture of death in this world, this kind of story would feel completely fantastic.

Bones spoke to Jenny.

She discovered the gift -- if gift it was -- at the age of five. Her brother, Samuel, had been excavating in the backyard with a red-bladed Ames True Temper shovel. A foot down, he accidentally disturbed the grave of one Fluffymump, a former favorite feline. Some surreptitious digging, a quick bend and snatch, and he whirled, shouting, "Hey, Germy, catch."

Fluffymump's sepia skull landed in Jenny's outstretched hands.

Naturally, she screamed and ran upstairs to her room. Naturally, Jenny's father bent Samuel over his knee and given him three sharp whacks. Naturally, Jenny's mother followed close after to offer consolation and chocolate chip cookies only just taken from the oven. But that was where expectation ended.
Read the rest on his blog, I Saw Lightning Fall.

Veith likes 'Death's Doors'



Our friend Prof. Gene Edward Veith of Patrick Henry College gives my latest novel the thumbs up:

But although there are a lot of big ideas in this book and a lot of rich theologizing, Death’s Doors is just fun to read. It’s suspenseful, exciting, and wildly imaginative, both in the author’s story telling and in the way it stimulates the reader’s imagination. And I’m realizing that all good novels–including Christian novels, classics, and other works that are Good for You–need to have those qualities. And this one does.


Read it all here.

Restaurant Complains of Your Bad Review. Pay $2,000.

Phare du Cap FerretA French woman blogs her bad experience at an Italian restaurant in an up-scale French tourist town on the Atlantic, and her review eventually ranks fourth in all Google searches for that restaurant. That was too high and hurt the establishment's reputation, lawyers argued, so a French court has ordered her to change the post's title (she retracted it entirely) and pay $2,000 in damages.

French lawyers say this won't become a precedent at all. Sure.

I won't name the restaurant, in case it adds to the blogger's grief, but the CS Monitor says that while the bad review is offline (though archived by Internet gnomes), many comments are being posted about how this restaurant can't take criticism.

Also in this report: "German politicians are considering a return to using manual typewriters for sensitive documents in the wake of the US surveillance scandal." This is probably a smart move.

"All web content deserves to go viral." Share This!!

Just in time for Friday the 13th, your new, favorite website has launched. ClickHole, from the makers of The Onion, "is the latest and greatest online social experience filled with the most clickable, irresistibly shareable content anywhere on the internet." It says so right on the About page. It has "only one core belief: All web content deserves to go viral."

It's spontaneously generated (not written by any actual humans) appears on the site, just begging to be clicked and shared. If anyone needs help on just how this "clicking" process works, scroll the About page for a helpful illustration.

Share your results for great quizzes like "How Many Of These ‘Friends’ Episodes Have You Seen?" I got "Nice! 'You know math?!' Yep, looks like you're a borderline 'Friends' genius! Wish you were around when Joey posed as a combat medic in Iraq during season 8!"

Read George R.R. Martin's confession: "When I Started Writing ‘Game Of Thrones,’ I Didn’t Know What Horses Looked Like."

Watch and share this touching video: "What This Adorable Little Girl Says Will Melt Your Heart"

And best of all: "8 Touching Pics Of Celebrities And Their Dads."

(via 10,000 Words)

God-blogging Is Replacing Deep Thinking

Bart Gingerich writes that young people are being led by untrained writers who claim to understand the deep wisdom of God better than anyone who came before them:

[W]e are starting to observe firsthand that the radical democratization of knowledge has led to what John Luckacs calls “an inflation of ideas.” Everyone has been given just enough knowledge and literacy to get them into trouble and yet none of the patience or discipline to get them out of it. Everyone with a blog or Twitter account can shoot out lots of small ideas that lack depth, grounding, and merit. Thus, American Christians are confronted with more and more theological ideas that have less and less worth.
Seminaries are both suffering from this and contributing to this problem. (via Anthony Bradley)

I'd know him anywhere



My favorite Christmas gift this year may have come from a total stranger. Digital artist Jeremiah Humphries produced the above drawing of Erling Skjalgsson, apparently, on a whim.

I like the use of light to suggest the hearth fire in the hall.

These are the moments that suggest to a writer that he hasn't entirely wasted his time.

For more information on Mr. Humphries' art, check out his blog.
.

An apology, and Baker

First off, I have to apologize and say that you'll be seeing slow posting from me this week, or none at all. I have a major paper to write for my Library Science class, requiring my undivided attention.

Meanwhile, I direct you to our friend Hunter Baker, who posted a very thoughtful piece today on the minimum wage controversy, and Christian compassion in general.

During a recent visit to twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: ”Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.

The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage....

And now I aspire to a nap



What a strange day. I was very low and very high within a few hours, and all through the mediation of the Internet. This whole thing would have been inconceivable just 20 years ago.

First, though, the weekend report. My big project was my annual ceremony of seeking out and repairing cracks in the retaining wall on the west side of my property, so it doesn’t rain chips down onto my neighbor’s driveway, or give way altogether in small landslide. The neighbor and I have discussed replacing the whole thing, but that awaits the Day When My Ship Comes In. A movie deal would do it.

I knew ahead of time that the work would leave me walking like Walter Brennan on the old Real McCoys TV series, which most of you are too young to remember. Which is just the sort of thing Grandpa McCoy would have said himself, except that he would have said it about Vaudeville or nickelodeon shows.

The other big accomplishment of the weekend was submitting my first research paper for my grad school class. Worked hard trying to master the APA style, and had to cut out half my text after I realized I’d forgotten to make it double spaced. I’ve often had people (some of them with doctorates) tell me they can’t imagine writing a novel. I for my part have a hard time imagining writing a doctoral thesis.

So I hobble into work today and check the grad school web access page, and find that my instructor has critiqued my paper, but not given me any grade points. I took that to mean I’d failed the assignment, and so plunged into Stygian depression. I have to maintain a B average to stay in school. All that was over now, I thought. I was done. Bound for unemployment and life on the street.

Then I e-mailed the instructor, asking her to explain. She e-mailed back that she just hadn’t assigned grades yet.

OK. Never mind, then.

And then I get a plug from John Wilson at Christianity Today’s Books & Culture podcast (see below). That’s like a bucket list thing for me. All my life, Christianity Today has been the standard of intellectual respectability in the evangelical world. And I made it! In a way.

My grandmother would have been so proud. Though I’d have to explain to her what the Internet and podcasts are.

Then we could commiserate about our stiff joints.

Our Names Are Dropped in the Latest B&C Podcast

In his podcast today, John Wilson of Books and Culture talks about how much he enjoyed Lars' latest !!spell-binding!! novel, Hailstone Mountain, and a bit about how he was provoked to read it. The world feels smaller somehow.

If you too are brand new to Lars Walker's novels, learn more by following this wonderful, insightful, and humility-inspiring blog or through the links below:


(via Kevin Holtsberry)

A Heck of a Lewis site

Our friend Gene Edward Veith, of Cranach blog, linked today to Joel Heck's Lewis Site, where the author, who teaches at Concordia University, Austin, Texas has done a lot of work compiling a chronology of C. S. Lewis's life.

He's now produced a perpetual desk calendar with an event for every day of the year. The perfect gift for... well, for me. And for those Lewis fanatics on your list, whose name is surely Legion.

A Few Questions for God-bloggers of 2003

Joe Carter, formerly of The Evangelical Outpost, is wicking out the nostalgia in me by profiling three God-bloggers who started blogging in 2003, a year before I started this lit-blog. Like Joe, I have admired these men for a long time. They helped shaped the blogosphere, or it feels like they did for me.

Of Tim Challies, Jared Wilson, and Justin Taylor, he asks these questions:

  1. What was your motivation for starting a blog?
  2. How has blogging changed your life over the past decade?
  3. What is one lesson you've learned from blogging about writing, communicating, etc.?
  4. How has blogging itself or the blogosphere changed in these ten years?

Tim says: "I learned that I think best when I write. I don't really know what I believe until I write it down and work it through in my word processor, and in that way writing has been a critical part of my spiritual development. For some reason it took me beginning a blog to figure this out."

Jared says: "Then one of our guys said, "Why don't we stop the clunky email chains and do this on a weblog?" I had no idea what that was, but we all kinda said, 'Okay.'"

Justin: "Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think we are more bored with blogs than we were ten years ago. Our attention spans are even shorter as we want to hear from and interact with more people but with fewer characters — hence the rise of Twitter. What was a short piece ten years ago is now almost considered 'long form.'"

"Osteenian"

Today I got an e-mail from super-author Andrew Klavan, directing me to this column on his blog, in which he gives me a nice plug.

Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.

He was particularly pleased, he said, by my use of the adjective "Osteenian," meaning theological ideas in line with Joel Osteen's preaching. He seems to think I may have coined it, though I find it hard to believe nobody's used it before.

In any case, this counts as a good day.

Popular Science Shuts Off Commenters

Popsci.com, the site of Popular Science magazine, is shutting off comments, because "even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests."

Though most Popsci.com commenters were great, the salt of the earth, spambots and trolls were present as well, and, darn it, this Interweb thing is too unruly to govern with, like, technology.

The Popsci.com editors grieve, "A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again."

A war on expertise is being waged by spambots?

Mountainous Praise

Pastor and writer Frank Luke gives my Hailstone Mountain a very nice review today:

The strongest theme I saw was honor and duty in a person’s life. Duty means doing what needs to be done whether you like it or not. Especially if you like it not. The book revolves around honor. Men go to great lengths to gain or keep honor. Things they will not do for themselves, they do to help others. Men they would otherwise befriend they may not because of differences in spirit or blood. When people do their duty to God, the right things happen. When they forget, they and all those who serve under them suffer.

Baker on Odd

Our friend Hunter Baker praises Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas books over at Touchstone Magazine:

Years of major market success gain an author freedom to do what he wants. In the last decade, Koontz has invested his considerable artistic capital in becoming a more intentional instructor of the soul. His device for moral and spiritual teaching is a young man named Odd. Odd, like Koontz, is a Catholic. He is bright, handsome, and athletic. His parents are divorced and both highly dysfunctional. Odd's inattentive, playboy father comes from a family with a lot of money. His mother doesn't deserve the name. Given his upbringing, Odd is a miracle. He is God's child more than he is the child of two people who refuse to grow up.

For your Spectation

I have a column called "The Book We Still Can't Spare" at The American Spectator today. It's about the Bible and democracy.

Journalism tips from (Mollie) Hemingway

Our friend Anthony Sacramone sends a link to a snarky column at Intercollegiate Review: "How to Be a Really Lousy Journalist for Fun and Profit":

Start with the assumption that your own views are moderate. Within your newsroom, they probably are, even if last night at a colleague’s dinner party you argued for single-payer health care and mandatory re-education camps for homeschoolers. Then, instead of describing the views of people outside your newsroom, just label them “right-wing,” “anti-abortion,” or “extremely conservative.” You might be wondering if, finding rational argument too burdensome, you can just resort to calling the people you disagree with bigots and dismiss them. Turns out you can!

If you need to beef up your word count, throw in a few stereotypes and clichés about backwoods believers. Be careful even here, though, as you don’t want to showcase views that might catch on.

Read the whole thing here.

A submission on submission


John Sigismund of Hungary with Suleiman the Magnificent in 1556.

Today, Grim of Grim’s Hall cited Hailstone Mountain again, pointing out that one of the issues I dramatized in the book has shown up in the New York Times.

I’m getting really sick of being a prophet.

“It is my understanding that the prophet Jeremiah frequently expressed a similar sentiment, sir,” said Jeeves.

Over at National Review’s The Corner, Andrew C. McCarthy links to an article about the Islamic institution of the Jizya tax. Jizya is part of the process of submission in a sharia state. The kuffar (infidel) pays the jizya and suffers various social indignities, in order to be permitted to go on living and to practice his religion (this is the much-vaunted freedom of religion of which Islamic apologists boast).

The argument is that the Egyptian government openly considers U.S. foreign aid to be a payment of jizya. In their view, they are in the process of conquering us, and this is the beginning of our submission.

Will this information cause liberals, most of whom are adamant that our government should pay for nothing that can possibly be regarded as religious, to call for an end to our aid to Egypt?

No, no of course not. When they say “religion” they mean “Christianity.”

A Grim review



It's snowing again. Coming down pretty heavy. The weather man says five to eight inches this time.

I was going to call it an insult, but no. The last one was an insult. This is the one there's no alternative to laughing over. Even if it puts down a foot, I declare here and now I won't shovel it. It'll be gone in a couple days anyhow.

I'm beginning to think we need to draw lots to figure out who offended the Almighty.

Only I'm afraid it's me.

Anyway, our friend Grim at Grim's Hall has posted a review of Hailstone Mountain, with a call for discussion on a theological point which I, frankly, had never actually connected to the scene in the book he's talking about. But now that he mentions it, I guess he's right.

Walker declares success



I'm happy to report that our free book day (not over yet, you can still get it here until midnight, I think) seems to have been a success. We've given away more than 750 downloads, last time I checked, and one may hope that this might attract a few readers and referrals. Hailstone Mountain reached #2 on a couple of free Christian fantasy books lists today as well.

To put the cherry on the sundae, Loren Eaton posted a review at I Saw Lightning Fall. And we got a link from Vox Day of Vox Popoli.

Now I shall lean back and let all this adulation go to my head.

Thanks to everyone who helped promote it.

Speculative Faith



In yet another response to my Intercollegiate Review article, Speculative Faith asked me to answer a few questions over at their site. Thanks to those folks.

Interview at Evangelical Outpost

Visitors to the Evangelical Outpost website experienced, today, the horror of being greeted by my face. David Nilsen, who reviewed Troll Valley yesterday, followed up with an interview, which you can read here.

Troll Valley reviewed at Evangelical Outpost



And in all our excitement over Hailstone Mountain, let's not forget Troll Valley. David Nilsen posted a flattering review today at Evangelical Outpost.

Part of that is due to Walker’s writing ability. He spends a good chunk of the first third of the book describing life and work on a farm in Minnesota, including extended passages just describing food, without ever losing the reader’s interest. Walker also has the fascinating ability to be witty, even humorous, while dealing with the darker aspects of life and the human condition.


Much appreciated.

I did not see that coming



I don't think it would be right to say that my column on Christian Fantasy for The Intercollegiate Review, posted yesterday, has gone viral. But it seems to be approaching the communicable disease level anyway. Editor Anthony Sacramone tells me it's rapidly approaching their record for hits. There've been several links, including...

Our friend Gene Edward Veith over at Cranach calls it "beyond excellent."

David Mills at First Things speaks of "good advice" and "interesting insights."

And, most amazing of all, Jeffrey Overstreet himself devotes quite a long post to it, calling me a "formidable storyteller," which is kind of like having your singing praised by Placido Domingo. Although he's visited our blog in the past and responded to some of my comments on his works, I'm surprised that a guy with so much more important things to think about was even aware of my work. He disagrees with my use of the term "Christian fantasy," a point I appreciate, but I don't think there's much to be done about it.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who's spread the word. I did not expect a response of this kind. Frankly (as I confessed to Anthony) I was a little embarrassed to submit the thing, because it seemed to me a lot of conventional wisdom that had been dispensed just as well by better writers.

But sometimes you're in the right place at the right time, like the merchant in Hailstone Mountain who brought a cat to a country full of mice.

This is what you're getting or St. Patrick's Day, and you'll take it and like it!

Under protest, it goes without saying, because I'm afraid of the power of the Irish Lobby, I offer the following clip of the redoubtable Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem. It's a song I'm particularly fond of -- the kind that might not impress you on first acquaintance, but sticks in your mind after a couple repeats. I particularly like the line, "Castles are sacked in war, chieftains are scattered far -- truth is a fix-ed star...."



Now an Anthony Sacramone update: He sneaked back into his blog last week, tiptoeing with his shoes off, and did a post. Then he did another yesterday. So we've got that. He also links to the web page of the Intercollegiate Review, where he's got a very amusing cover story right now:

Empire builders and revolutionaries, reformers and moral scolds, civil libertarians and uncivil prohibitionists—all believe History is on their side. Beware anyone who imputes to History an inevitable, self-directed, Forward march, as if it were as fixed as a bar code, as predetermined as male-pattern baldness, as sovereign as any voluntaristic deity. Most risible are atheists, old or new, who act as if the expanding energies of a supposedly random and causeless Big Bang could even possess an ultimate purpose....

When you reach a fork in the beard, take it.



Today somebody on Facebook referred me to a new blog which will have, I expect, a selective appeal – Sveyn Forkblog. The author, an Englishman named Chris Tuckley, has decided to start a blog to celebrate the millennium of one of England’s most obscure kings – Sveyn (or Svein, or Sven, or Svend – the options are many) Forkbeard, the Viking Dane who conquered England, then promptly died, leaving the whole thing for his son Canute the Great to conquer over again.

This interests me, of course, because it’s in my line and precisely in my period. Svein was an ally of King Olaf Tryggveson of Norway, whom you’ll remember from The Year of the Warrior, but turned against him (actually it was more the other way around; Olaf switched sides on Svein) and led the coalition that defeated and killed Olaf at the Battle of Svold.

If you read West Oversea, you’ll recall how news came of the massacre of the Danes in England by King Aethelred the Unrede. One of the victims was said to be Svein’s own sister, which gave him both a personal reason and a political excuse for returning to England with fire and sword, and subduing the whole place.

He also appears in the classic novel The Long Ships (not the movie), but does not come off very well there.

Should Fiction Authors Be Bloggers?

Joel Friedlander shares some thoughts on the problems and benefits of blogging for fiction authors, particularly unpublished ones.

This should bring in even more hits!


Photo credit: Musicaline

I’ll fess up. I check our blog statistics now and then. Mostly not just to check the total clicks (though visit totals have been gratifying, thank you) but to back-track visitors and find what posts brought in the most Googlers. And this time of year an odd pattern appears. By far the most common search to wash up on these shores involves the words “Christmas crib.” And the searches, oddly, generally come from places in the Middle East. If I’m reading it right (always a questionable thesis), they generally land on this post, which says nothing at all about Christmas cribs, causing me to figure that the draw must actually be the picture of the crèche I used to illustrate it.

The term “Christmas crib” sounds strange to me. It’s not an English idiom, as far as I know. Nobody in these parts talks about Nativity Scenes that way. We call then Nativity Scenes or manger scenes, or if we’re feeling pedantic (and heaven knows I often do) we say “crèche.” But perhaps Christians in the Middle East do call them Christmas cribs. No reason why they shouldn’t. It’s a perfectly good name.

I might note (to continue in my pedantic voice, now that I’ve got it warmed up) that the Norwegian word for “manger” is in fact “krybbe.” There must be a history there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with manger scenes. But I don’t have any facts on that.

From what I’ve read, the traditional inverted A-frame wooden manger we see in Nativity Scenes is nothing at all like anything used in First Century Israel. Many scholars think Christ was born in one of the caves near Bethlehem, where sheep were stabled in those days. The mangers in those structures were made of stone masonry and were built into a corner of the wall. Which is bad for crèches, as it would badly mess up the composition.

However, another theory, which I’ve grown to favor, says that many Jewish houses of that day had an attached all-purpose room, which could be used for livestock when necessary, or could be cleaned out and turned into a guest room when the in-laws showed up. Such a room would have had a built-in manger as well, and that could explain the reference to the baby in the manger in Luke (where the word “stable” does not actually appear).

The problem with this theory is that it renders the traditional mean old innkeeper unnecessary. Which is OK with me, frankly, because he also appears nowhere in the text. And I've always identified with him.

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