"The wise screen writer is he who wears his second-best suit, artistically speaking, and doesn’t take things too much to heart."

- Raymond Chandler
Dispatch from Minot

I write to you from Minot, North Dakota. Hostfest begins in a few minutes, so I can't linger long. The weather is beautiful, and large crowds are expected. I am told there is reasonable chance of survival.

Just got the schedule for my upcoming "Virtual Book Tour." The information is can be found here.

Catch you later.


What thinking is not. John Piper has written about thinking in a new book. "Knowledge," he says, "is the fuel of the fire of love for God and man."

Secularism Is Not the Neutral Ground It Claims To Be

Video of Hunter Baker on “The System Has a Soul: Lectures on Christianity and Secularism”

Are Paperback Original Lesser Works than Hardbacks?

Joanne Kaufman writes about paperbacks for the Wall Street Journal, saying many people prefer hardbacks.

The belief that a paperback original, however worthy, will be given short shrift by reviewers tells part of the story. "Critics pay more attention to hardcovers even if they say they don't," said one agent who requested anonymity.
Vanity plays a role, an anonymous publisher tells Ms. Kaufman. "In almost every deal I do, the agent tries to get a contractual hardcover commitment even if the book isn't written yet and down the road it might become clear that paperback original is the way to go."

The Sagas of Heidrek, and of Lars the Far-Travelled

Dale Nelson passes on this link to the blog Sacnoth's Scriptorium, passing on information about the upcoming re-release of Christopher Tolkien's translation of The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise.

I'm particularly happy about this since HEIDREK's is my favorite saga, and the first one I read (back when I had to get special dispensation from the college library to check out books there, since I was still in high school). Though it came as a bit of a shock to discover that Heidrek himself was the 'hero' of the saga only in the sense of protagonist: a kin-slayer and wife-murderer and generally dangerous and disagreeable person to be around. The most striking character for me was (and is) not Heidrek but his mother, Hervor*, who summons her own dead father from the grave to demand the family heirloom, the cursed sword Tyrfing (made by Durin & Dvalin), which had been buried with him. This scene was one of the first bits of Old Norse lore to be translated into English** at the beginning of the revival of interest in old legends and mythologies and literatures in the mid-18th century. Tolkien fans will probably be more focused on the Riddle-game, which was surely one of Tolkien's main sources for Gollum's riddle-game (along with two lays in the ELDER EDDA): one of Gollum's riddles ("no-legs") actually appears in one of the HEIDREK manuscripts. There's also the famous battle between the Goths and the Huns that ends the saga, although this occurs after Heidrek's day and in fact is set in motion by his children.

In personal news, blogging will be light next week, as I'll be heading out Monday for my annual migration to Minot, North Dakota for the Norsk Hostfest. I hope to keep you posted to some degree, as I'll be taking my laptop and they do have WiFi, which sometimes works.

Back next Monday, but I make no promises about posting that day.

Friday Fight: Are They Dancing?

In honor of the cool videos we used to post here on Fridays, labeling them The Friday Fight, I give you this dance scene.

The Versatile Blogger Award

Our friend Meg Moseley has tagged us over at her blog with the coveted Versatile Blogger Award. A Major Award of this caliber does not come without a price. Here’s what we’ve been asked to do:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass on the award to up to fifteen deserving bloggers.
4. Contact the bloggers you chose for the award.

1. Thank you, Meg.

2. Are there seven things about myself I haven’t told you yet? Is there anything left unrevealed that won’t revolt the public and drive what’s left of our readers away? I can but try.

2.1 I weighed 5 lbs., 6 oz. at birth. I was underweight. In the time since then I have remedied that defect in rather magnificent fashion.

2.2 Technically, by the rules of primogeniture, I am the patriarch of my family, oldest son of the oldest reproducing son in the blood line (assuming you disqualify adoptees). This applies only to the Kenyon branch of the Walkers. My relatives Steven and John Book, who read this blog, come from a different branch, and so miss out on the benefits of my benevolent overlordship.

2.3 I do not care for bacon. Or much of anything smoked, really.

2.4 The first book I ever took out of a library was about early American explorers. I think it was called Explorers All, but I may be mistaken about that.

2.5 I like wristwatches with lots of little dials and functions. However I’ve given up wearing them, because they’re such a pain to keep regulated. (I still wear a watch, just not the complicated kind.)

2.6 I once punched a guy who’s dead now. The two facts are not related. Anyway, he deserved it.

2.7 Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever the hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to eat some chocolate.

3. I shall pass this on, as is my wont, to zero deserving bloggers. Why should I dilute such an honor by sharing it with lesser writers?

4. Done.

Cat Eyes Squirrel

This photo has Going Viral written all over it (which is an ugly cliche serious writers should never use).

Cat eyes Squirrel

The photo was shot by Jim Tiller in Ormond Beach Fla., Wednesday morning, September 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Daytona Beach News-Journal, Jim Tiller)

Inspiring Quotes for the Traveler

1. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a hastily uploaded picture of a plane at the departure gate.”

2. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I tweeted my followers to ask which I should take.”

I love these. Read more at 501 Places

Eat like a Viking, regurgitate, repeat

In case you’re wondering how I’m doing on the Virtual Book Tour I’ve been working on for my publisher, I think I can say it’s been going well. I’ve finished one blog post and several interviews for various literature-related blogs. And yes, I’ll let you know where to look for them, once they appear (assuming I find out myself).

I’m nearly finished with the first batch of interviews. I understand more are coming. Today the publicist asked me how I felt about writing a food-related post for a blog that talks to authors about their favorite recipes.

Now on the surface that doesn’t make much sense, me being a certified microwave-dependent bachelor (though I do make a mean scratch chocolate chip cookie when the fit is on me). But the idea of writing about Viking food, and relating it to West Oversea (buy it here) is intriguing. I’ve decided to do it, and I’ve made arrangements to borrow a recipe from a reenactor friend.

(And yes, in case you wondered, I will give her credit for it.)

I feel confident I can produce a post unlike any this particular blog has seen before. A hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners exposé of genuine Viking cuisine, featuring such delights as rotten shark (a delicacy in Iceland which reportedly made that Chef Gordon Ramsey throw up), and sheep’s head (also popular in Iceland. The eyeballs, I’m told, are especially relished). Many is the joke that’s been made about lutefisk over the years, but the Norwegians’ beloved lutefisk is just a pale, ghostly remnant of the true Nightmare On Elm Street mealtime horrors of the Scandinavian past.

Because we’re talking about a marginal economy, where taste places a far distant second to survival.

People sometimes ask me whether I wish I had been born in the Viking Age.

My answer is no, for three reasons.

One, I was a sickly child who would in all probability have been exposed on a hillside for the wolves at birth.

Two, the plumbing was awful.

Three, the food was inedible to the modern palate.

I’ve written a time travel book (still unpublished at this date) in which a father and daughter get the opportunity to go back to Viking Age Norway and stay there. She points out that if they did, they’d never get to eat chocolate again.

I call that an excellent point.

Merry Christmas, Gromit

Britain's Wallace and Gromit are now stars in Royal Mail stamps. I wonder if I can get some of these.

Interactive Fiction: Is It the Future?

Keith Stuart asks if interactive fiction is the future of books. "For example," Mr. Stuart writes, "clues could be unlocked by shaking the screen so that most of the words 'fall off' revealing hidden codes. Other narrative elements could be unveiled by opening the book while in a specific geographic location." He goes on to describe what is already online for interactive fiction and why a cool idea may not work for previously published novels.

Writing Contests

Jane Friedman has a list of national writing contests with not entry fee.

Man-Kzin Wars XI, by Hal Colebatch, Matthew Joseph Harrington, and Larry Niven

I reviewed Man-Kzin Wars X: The Wunder War a while back. This is the sequel. My friend Hal Colebatch, who wrote all the stories of the previous volume, contributes the bulk of Man-Kzin Wars XI too, but the other authors' stories are also excellent.

The background (these books are set in Larry Niven's Ringworld universe) is that the warlike Kzin race, large creatures very much like intelligent lions (with a sort of Roman/Samurai ethic) were raging across the universe, subduing one intelligent species after another, until they ran into the apparently helpless humans, who'd lived in peace so long they'd forgotten how to fight. But humans, it turned out, are born killers, and once they got their footing again they stopped the Kzin cold. The stories of this volume, except for some flashbacks, involve the time after the Kzin surrender, when a few humans and Kzin on the planet Wunderland are tentatively learning to cooperate. Members of both species are coming to believe the unthinkable—that their clash was actually good for both sides, teaching them new ideas and new sensibilities. Read the rest of this entry . . .

You Can't Say 'Nazi,' But Us?

Poster entitiled 'This is the Enemy' (Barbara Marks, artist) depicts an arm with a swastika on it's sleeve as it drives a dagger through a copy of a book labelled 'Holy Bible,' early 1940s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Political signs with Nazi words, symbols, or overtones showed up a rally during that past week, and the media yawned. Maybe they were tired from all of their outrage a few weeks ago. Larry O'Connor reports, "What is truly scandalous about the traditional media’s apparent obliviousness is the fact that unlike the Tea Parties — which are often spontaneous, unorganized events with no direct affiliation to a politician or a political party — this protest has been directly liked to Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, and her campaign has been caught in a series of misleading statements regarding that involvement."

Is it worse that such signs appear at an organized rally or at an unorganized one? Is it exhausting to hear outrage about one and not the other, a news cycles about one and nothing about the other?

Of course, the illustration here is not from one of the posters, but it is a curious bit of Nazi propaganda, is it not? Having they been called christians of a sort in your hearing? This isn't a Christian poster.

Fun and Books with Jasper Fforde

In this interview from a few years ago, author Jasper Fforde, who has a new novel coming next year, talks about writing for the fun of it, even when no one reads or comments on anything you've sent them.

Of course, one always thinks ‘wouldn’t it be great to be published?’ But I was always thinking ‘oh, it’d be great to be published but it’s not likely, but I’m having fun, so I’m going to write what I want to write.’ So when I did actually speak to people about my project, they thought it was a pile of rubbish.

Freedom--You Don't Want It

D.G. Myers criticizes the new Jonathan Franzen novel, Freedom. Apparently, the author's idea behind the title is closer to tyranny than liberty. Myers notes how thoroughly liberal, as in the American political left, this novel is. "Franzen’s references to his title leave small doubt that he holds the Leftist view that freedom is the problem, not a political solution to much of anything," he writes and goes on to describes scenes in which the word freedom appears. The last of these scenes refers to the freedom a pet loses when collared by its owner. (via Frank Wilson)

Buy Freedom: A Novel here or at your favorite local bookstore, whose owner needs new shoes for his kids.

By way of taking all the fun of this, look at what Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary has on freedom: "A state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement. Freedom is personal, civil, political, and religious. [See Liberty.]" That's the summary. Much more is under liberty, explaining specifics of natural, civil, religious, political, and other types of liberty.

My first ukelele-inspired post, I think

Over at Grim's Hall
(we seem to be doing a lot of profitable cross-pollination between our two blogs these days) Grim posted this amusing clip of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain doing a number you'll... probably recognize.

This is a lot of fun, and I'm glad there are people doing silly things like this in the world.

And yet, as I mentioned in the comments, it's not a great thing in itself. It's great in being unique in its sub-genre, excelling in a field in which there's little competition. I remember an old Peter Sellers movie, “The Bobo,” in which he played “The World's Only Singing Matador.” Not the best matador, not even a very good matador, just the only one who sang.

I once saw a poster on the University of Minnesota campus, back in my college days. It advertised a movie about the struggles of Labor. It proudly proclaimed that this was the first film ever produced purely on Collectivist principles. Every detail of scripting, production, casting, and filming was decided by a vote of all the workers involved.

Needless to say, I did not go to see this masterpiece. I'm fairly sure I'd rather have the insides of my eyelids tattooed by a prison inmate than see that film.

Because any work of art that says, “See me for some reason other than that I'm a good piece of work” can pretty much be counted on to be very bad.

And that applies to Christian art, too.

Even mine.

(Which does not in any way mean the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain isn't really, really cool.)

Plot Twist Fun

Ever thought about how a well-known story might end differently? A post on this topic could be a magnet of unwanted spoilers, but I'll send it anyway. Throwing reality or plausibility aside, what popular story changes would you suggest?

Return of the Jedi--Yoda: Now the truth know you must. Vader, your father he is not. Solo your father, and Leia . . . gasp, cough, cough.
Luke: What about Leia? She couldn't be . . .
Yoda: Mother.
Luke: Ewww.

Star Trek 4--Kahn isn't dead after all, and the really old geezer will finally get revenge.

Star Trek 5--They Saved Kahn's Brain

The Wizard of Oz--The Wizard: But this is Kansas, Dorothy. It's been Kansas all along. You just have to know it in your heart.

Sherlock Holmes: Unsolved Mysteries--Watson: Holmes hasn't been able to solve a single crime since the encounter with the woman. For instance, one I had to solve for him came to us on a Monday morning. . . .

Everyone's Doing It Now

99c Store Going Out of BusinessTim Challies writes about the money problems the porn industry has. In short, few people want to pay for what they can get for free or get in the context of a good story, like what's in several HBO series. It reminds me of a comment from a reporter, which I think I blogged about at the time, expressing doubt that anyone paid for pornography anymore.

Tim says, "[P]ornography has succeeded so well that it has forced itself into decline." And yet, this is not good news. (via Steve B on Facebook)

Tim Challies has an e-book on this topic called Sexual Detox, available on his site.

Thick Skin

Thick Skin - Rhinoceros rear end
The Novel Doctor has a few words to say about taking criticism.
But, as the theory goes, if you have a “thick skin,” the review won’t bother you at all. As you read how your protagonist “wouldn’t even be believable playing a stiff on a soap opera” and that your plot “drags more than J. Edgar Hoover” you’ll simply smile while the scent of lavender fills your nostrils and images of puppies and kittens frolicking in a field of poppies fill your mind.
Of course, there are a few problems with this theory, as the doctor explains. I have often thought I take criticism well, but I'm starting to doubt it. At least, I worry that I don't take it as well as I thought I did. What I need is to put my work out there more aggressively so that more good and bad criticism comes, and I'll have more practice handling it.

Njal's Saga

I just finished reading Njal's Saga again today (actually Magnusson's and Pálsson's translation, not the new one pictured above). It would be pointless to review such a classic, but I thought I'd jot down a few reader's impressions, fancying myself (as I do) a fairly knowledgeable reader.

Njal's Saga
is often named as the greatest of all the Icelandic sagas. It's not my favorite; I prefer the more action-oriented sagas like Egil's and Grettir's. That's not to say Njal's Saga lacks action. There's plenty. The body count piles up like kills in a Stallone movie. But Njal's is perhaps the most reflective saga, the saga that worries most about its soul.

The central character, of course, is the title character, Njal Thorgeirsson. He's not the hero; there are actually two heroes, Gunnar and Kari, both mighty warriors of whom Schwarzenegger is not worthy. Njal, by contrast, is a man of peace. He's famed for his wisdom and shrewdness, not for his martial skills. He can't even grow a beard, a fact that makes him the target of some contempt. In spite of his efforts, his family gets caught in a cycle of killing and revenge that leads to his death (and his family's) by burning, in his own house. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Not All About Style

Why is awful writing tolerated? D.G. Myers answers this question, saying most readers don't care enough to complain.

Ten Reasons You Won't Write That Novel

File this under: #Shutupandwrite

Author Karisha PrescottShe doesn't appear to be keep up her blog, but Karisha Prescott does have this post on why you (generally speaking) won't ever finish that novel you keep talking about, aside from the money you still owe the Don. You don't make time to write. You don't work to improve your writing. You over-edit what you have written, and you can't take feedback.

From Homer to Rosie...

I have achieved a sort of anonymous immortality through this post at Pajamas Media by Bryan Preston. Bryan's a Facebook friend of mine, and the Facebook friend he quotes at the bottom of the first page, the one who came up with the Homer Simpson gag, was me.

(Caution for the faint of heart—political snark abounds.)

Roy Jacobsen came up with the answer to my Filing Cabinet Drawer Label Joke Challenge yesterday. As he notes, my labels are based on some lines from Harold Arlen's classic song, “Blues In the Night.” I admit I cheated, rearranging the towns so they'd be alphabetical. But I still think it's funny.

“From Natchez to Mobile,
From Memphis to Saint Joe,
Wherever the four winds blow,
I've been to some big towns,
I've heard me some big talk,
But there is one thing I know...”

Here's Rosemarie Clooney doing the song sometime back in the 1950s.

I like the arrangement, and the guys with hats and cigarettes. And it's documentary evidence of how smokin' hot (and talented) Rosie was back in the day.

Sci-Fi Cities Illustrated

I want to watch Brazil, but I don't think my sweet wife will want to see it with me. I'd like to see Blade Runner again too, since I'm sure I didn't understand it as a kid. The WebUrbanist has a list of "Nightmare & Dream Designs" for cities.

What if Google and Bing Waged an Audience War and Nobody Noticed?

Kevin Ryan talks innovation and technology in this post on AdAge.com, particularly targeting Google's new Instant Search--have you seen it? If you're looking for one the major websites/companies that usually top your search list, now you won't have to wait three seconds. Ryan opines:

For most people, search is just search

My favorite scrap with my wife co-starred a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue. In the middle of a partial light to medium domestic storm, she poured herself the last two fingers of a liter bottle. A bottle, mind you, that I had carried back from China many years ago.

I instantly forgot what we were quibbling about. As she finished the last drop, it occurred to me: In a distracted environment, my wife's understanding of Johnny Blue was that of any other bottle of Scotch. For me, however, a bottle of the Blue lasts about five to seven years and only makes an appearance on or around my birthday.

To my wife, Scotch is Scotch and it all tastes like recycled tires. To the consuming public, search is search and the issues we face are unique to us. Do-it-all devices and features are engineered to deliver a unique customer experience by offering everything, allowing consumers pick what they like. It's a nice idea that really doesn't apply to search.

File it under "Inside Jokes"

Close up of filing cabinets

James Lileks blogged about many things today, but among them was labels on filing cabinet drawers. This prompted me to mention, in the comments, a secret joke I've been carrying on for years.

I was working at my student job, sitting behind the library desk at Waldorf College, Forest City, Iowa, back around 1968, when I came up with what I thought was a hilarious filing cabinet drawer label joke. (This is a small, rather specialized field of humor.)

Two file drawers, one above the other.

The first is labeled, MEMPHIS to MOBILE.

The second is labeled, NATCHEZ to SAINT JOE.

I've had those labels on filing cabinets wherever I've lived and/or worked ever since. I don't think anyone has ever gotten the joke.

Do you? (You get no points if you read down the comments on Lileks' post and see what I wrote there.)

Our Minds Are Factories of Idols

12 Steps to Identifying Your Functional Saviors On this point, John Calvin wrote in The Institutes:

Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation has adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and 60devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views.

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume Set)

Life of an Agent

Literary agent Elisabeth Weed answers questions on what she sees as an agent. "Much of this business is based off of personal relationships that have been built over time over lunch," she says.

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