Comments on Clarion Review: The Gold Shaper

Just a few footnotes on the perils of a getting a professional book review. It’s easy to be too quickly understood by a very busy reviewer (I’m sure they’re very overworked and overwhelmed by the volume of new books on the market). The reviewer says three times my work is a trilogy. It may be unimportant to anyone else on earth but I would like to state and make plain and clear in no uncertain terms:

The Goldfinder is a four-part series. Book One, The Gold Hunter; Book Two, The Gold Shaper; Book Three, The Gold Soldier; Book Four, (to be published) The Heart of Gold Lake.

The reviewer states my character is a “young man navigating the early colonial wilderness”. The American colonial period was roughly mid-1500’s to mid-1700’s. The Goldfinder Series has nothing to do with the colonial period and everything to do with the Gold Rush era, which began in 1849. I have done everything in my writing power to capture the flavor and mania of the Gold Rush era, and particularly the Valory family which is swept up and destroyed by the gold fever madness–and–what will Petr Valory do to survive after the madness has rushed over him. Which leads me to the next point: the white’s relationship with the native people.

I am taken to task “that Native American characters are consistently called ‘red'”. Let me assure you it would be highly unrealistic (unless I were writing a Mel Brooks comedy-parody) to have any of my white characters say, “Let us go over the rise and see if there are any Native Americans lurking there.” Even though it might be offensive to modern ears, the Gold Rush characters would and did say: “Keep your eyes peeled for redskins.” At best I can only repeat the disclaimer that appeared in the foreword to Francis Parkman’s great classic, The Oregon Trail: “It is important for today’s readers to keep in mind, however, that although this book was representative of its time, it in no way reflects current attitudes.”

But anyone who dares to write with any degree of racial flavor is doomed to be misunderstood. And those who are uncomfortable with American history shouldn’t read American history. They should read fairy tales, romances or soap operas. American history is strong stuff and always will be. No other nation has tried to provide equality and freedom for every race and class. Our failures have been epic and bloody. But at least we have tried. And in my life and in my writing, with a great lack of perfection, so have I.

Clarion Review: 4-stars to The Gold Shaper

The Gold Shaper is a fast-paced, exciting coming-of-age story about identity and the search for a deeper purpose.

The second novel in a trilogy, Philip Atlas Clausen’s The Gold Shaper puts a twist on the western genre by pairing a yearning for gold with the dramatic story of a biracial young man navigating the early colonial wilderness. Tense interactions between starkly different characters are the star of this adventure-filled show.

Without having read the first book in the series, it is at first difficult to decipher the relationships between the various characters, but after a few pages, each character’s singular motivation is made apparent. Sabbah, a Native American man, wants to evict the white men from the continent by any means necessary. Dain King, a leader in a nearby white settlement, wants gold. And Petr, King’s half-white, half Native seventeen-year-old estranged son and the story’s protagonist, wants to save his kidnapped sister and prevent a war between the white and Native peoples. Petr is pulled in many directions, which constantly shift and amp up the tension of the already suspenseful plot.

At the beginning of the novel, King takes Petr hostage and tortures him in an attempt to get information out of him about the location of his gold. When he ties the boy up in a canoe and throws him down the river–with someone a few miles down to grab him–the canoe is intercepted and Petr is rescued by a group of Native Americans, one of who is the beautiful Minoah. Petr soon discovers that Sabbah is part of this tribe, and tracks him down in order to find his sister. Of the very few women characters featured in the novel, one is Minoah, who functions merely as a love interest, and another is Petr’s sister, who falls into the damsel-in-distress archetype. The speed at which Petr and Minoah fall in love is detrimental to Minoah’s character development as an individual, and Petr’s sister, at least in this volume of the trilogy, seems to serve only as a plot piece to keep Petr moving forward.

It is also problematic that Sabbah is often referred to as “the bad Indian,” that Native American characters are consistently called “red”. Petr considers his Native American heritage a “dirty” part of him and chooses to identify with it as little as possible, except for in a few brief instances with Minoah, such as when she gives  him a pair of moccasins that symbolize her wish to marry him.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters–aside from the too-fast partnership of Minoah and Petr–deepens the story beyond its action-filled plot. Especially for Petr, the tension between the two communities and the complex men within them can twist single-minded ambitions from distinct to more than black and white. Realistic, dramatic dialogue strengthens these interactions and pulls the multilayered plot forward swiftly. The woodsy setting, too, always looms in the background, commingling danger and beauty.

The Gold Shaper is a fast-paced, exciting, coming-of-age story about identity and the search for a deeper purpose. Fans of westerns and historical adventures may enjoy this novel and the other volumes of the trilogy. (Aimee Jodoin– April 26, 2018)

Book Review: Blue Highways: A Journey into America. by William Least Heat-Moon

Gritty blue collar snapshot of America in 1982
Reviewer: Philip Atlas Clausen  on February 4, 2018
Format: Paperback
Very gritty blue collar snapshot of America in 1982. Least Heat-Moon needed to get away from home in Missouri where his marriage and career were disintegrating so he took this circular trip around the USA to clear his head and in so doing created one of the great travelogues of all time. He’s not visiting glamour spots or drinking destinations of the travel brochures. He’s down, lost and confused. He wants to see how real people are living and getting on with life and maybe get a clue about his own place in life. And since he’s limited himself to the back roads, the blue-lines on the map, he meets mostly blue collars in the little out of the way places. A delightful plus and surprise to me was he took photo snapshots of the people he met and included them in the book. The man has a photographic mind for detail and dialog which got a little overwhelming at times.

Book Review Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”

Steinbeck tours America in his prime
By Philip Atlas Clausen on January 16, 2018
Format: Paperback
Verified Purchase
What I didn’t know about John Steinbeck is that he is always engaging. For twenty years he was the big man writing the Great American Novel: “Tortilla Flat”; “Of Mice and Men”; “The Grapes of Wrath”. Then in 1960 he decided he needed to refill his creative tank. He needed to travel across America again (from Maine to California and back home to New York), not as a tourist, not to see the sights–but to engage with people, Americans–see what they were thinking, hear what they were talking about. Steinbeck was the kind of man who could walk into any bar or hardware store or gas station and engage with and maybe even make a friend for a moment or a lifetime of the person he encountered. To be sure, whisky often seemed a catalyst to his socializing. Certainly he was a charming man. To make it even more charming he traveled with this poodle, Charley. Steinbeck didn’t give out his name, didn’t want to be treated as the big writer. Thus he gathered a very honest, undistorted view of 1960 America. I also didn’t know Steinbeck didn’t live very long. He died in 1968 at the age of 66.

Book Review: ATLAS SHRUGGED, Ayn Rand

ATLAS SHRUGGED, Ayn Rand is the opposite of modern pop-fiction.
Philip Atlas Clausen  January 15, 2018

A big novel, a big investment of time, written in a time and for a time (1957) when there were far fewer media and entertainment venues in the world to pull the mind into the bright nothings of modern life, when a novelist could get away with long soliloquys quite unnatural to the modern sound-byte consciousness. This big book is for the contemplative reader. Here’s what it’s about. Brilliant, hard-working industrialists create all the modern wonders of incredible motors, trains and steel–and the government talking-heads ‘experts’ do all in their power to bleed the creators dry of their just rewards symbolized by the mighty $ sign. The mysterious John Galt secretly organizes the creators into a strike: they disappear one at a time into a hidden and secret valley and withhold from the non-producers of the world their creative and maintaining powers. The industrial world slowly crumbles. Trains stop running. Electricity runs out. The lights of the world go out. At the end of the novel, now that the world learns who its real benefactors are, the inventors, creators, artists and industrialists: the creators are ready to return and rebuild the world. It’s a unique book if a little exhaustive and exhausting. Something Ayn Rand does over and over again to the point of silliness is overdrawing of faces: triple meaning etched into the expression of every face becomes a little tiresome and eventually preposterous. This novel is a very long dramatization of the virtues of capitalism versus the evils of socialism and welfare-ism. It’s like mental weightlifting: tiring, but noble and worth the effort. The opposite of modern pop-fiction.

How I Didn’t Go to Vietnam

My brother Rog and I lived in California in 1969 when he got drafted into the Army while I was going to junior college with a 2-S (student) deferment. The 2-S meant your military obligation was deferred (or put off) until you finished or dropped out of school. I stayed in school, but I felt torn because my father had served in WWII as a B-17 copilot and I believed Rog would soon be going to Vietnam–and shouldn’t I serve? I went to the Marine Corp recruiter in San Jose. I was 18, not very athletic, and I had been told the military would “make you a man”. My big problem was I felt volunteering for the military meant volunteering for killing someone, and my 18-year-old conscience said I couldn’t do that. I told the recruiter I wanted to apply for the Officer Candidate School. This meant I would stay in college and learn to be a Marine officer on weekends and in the summer. At graduation I would become a Marine Lieutenant on active duty for three years (as I recall). The recruiter gave me a bus ticket and off I went to Moffett Airfield (by San Francisco Bay) for physical fitness examination.

The room was a great old airplane hanger bigger than a football field and filled with a circle of 500 young men who had either enlisted or been drafted into military service. A doctor in the middle of the room called out “injuries”. For example, he yelled, “Anybody got a bad knee?” Hands would go up. A team of doctors went around the ring checking for “bad knees”. One man raised his hand every time for every “injury”. One man told me he drank a quart of soy sauce so his heart would pound. I passed every test except the vision test. When I returned to the recruiter the next day, he gave me the news. “You can’t quality for Officer Training, but I can still get you into the Corp as a soldier! You can enlist right now!” I said I hadn’t thought about that. I said I had only thought about Officer Candidate School and staying in school. He said, “I think you need somebody to make your decision for you! Give me ten pushups!” I did twenty, and left there in a hurry, feeling ashamed and sad. (In my old age I know I probably wouldn’t have survived very long as a Marine Corp lieutenant in Vietnam).

I moved to Nebraska to be close to my girlfriend. We both went to school at Dana College, a Lutheran college. I still felt very confused about whether I should enlist, or not. Now at the wise old age of 19, I made the brilliant decision to let fate make my decision. I wrote my draft board in San Jose and told them to take away my 2-S deferment and make me 1-A, the designation that meant you were eligible and ripe for military service. I finally got a notice back from my draft board saying I was no longer 2-S. I was now 4-D. I had to look that up on the list of designations. The 4-D signified I was a “divinity student” and therefore ineligible for the draft. I will never know how that happened and I took that as my answer that fate did not intend me as a soldier in this lifetime.

A short time later (I think it was early 1970) the Draft Lottery was televised and we watched in the student union TV lounge as our birthday dates were drawn out of a tumbler. Those who got low numbers (who would be the first to be drafted) turned away in shock and despair. My birthday, October 27th, got a high number (187??) and I was told I would no longer need to worry about the military draft. If I wanted military service I would have to voluntarily enlist. Then Rog returned from Vietnam in late 1970 and told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want me to go to Vietnam. And that’s how I ended up not going into service and not going to Vietnam.

And I will always feel second-best to those who went and those who served in Vietnam.

What Rog Told Me About Viet Nam

Roger full photo of military patches ribbons pinsNow I’ve given you all the Letters from Viet Nam from Rog, and I believe he wrote in a humorous style to hide the horror and terror of what he was doing. But there are other things I remember, things he told me. And right now it feels like two of the letters are missing (right before and after he got wounded) because I can remember things he wrote that I can no longer find on paper.

He wrote: Don’t believe what you read in the papers. We don’t fight for patriotism or democracy. We fight to keep alive, to protect our buddies–and we fight to get payback on our buddies who were killed. That’s why we fight.

He wrote: The wounded guys all look like zombies. Don’t come here, Phil. There is Clausen blood in this ground and one Clausen is enough for this war. Don’t come here.

I can’t remember if he said his machinegun was 50 or 60 caliber. He wrote: The door-gunner machine gun is so powerful I can chop down a tree with it. You can’t imagine what it does to a body.

After Rog died, his stepson Dave told me Rog used to scream in his sleep at night at home. Rog didn’t want to talk about it. But finally he told Dave, “I’m here at the shit plant (the water treatment plant in Palo Alto, CA). and the gooks are coming over wire, over the fence. The gooks are overrunning the plant and I can’t stop them. They’re coming….”

Philip Atlas Clausen is author of The Black Butterfly Woman, a Vietnam era novel about the war. Purchase now at Available as softbound or e-book.

Letters from Viet Nam, 4

PersonalRog base training photo

24 June 70

Dear Married Kid Brudder,

Thanks for the happy birthday letter & tell the folks thanks for the package. Everything arrived in great shape. Naturally the boys threw a wild part for me, & I got drunk as a skunk.

Ya know, at times I’m so dumb. Over a week ago, I wrote to you but forgot to send it. Duh. So you’ll get it after this one. You can’t miss it, ‘cos it’s got one of my “true adventure” stories in it. But for that matter, so does this one.

Today, me & a good buddy of mine, Gale Hanten, were supposed to sky up for a 7 day leave together. We were going to Bangkok, Thailand for a wondrous wenching & wine drinking bout. Never happen, G.I. Mainly ‘cos we’ve both been in the Hospital since yesterday.

He caught a chunk of grenade with his head. But it was small, it only took three stitches to patch him up. He’s alright though. I got hit in the right leg. I’ve also got 47 stitches in that thar leg. We were sittin’ on an L.Z. (landing zone) at the time in our ship. There was tall grass all around. All of a sudden this one lone gook jumps up about five feet in front of me & stabs me with his bayonet. Fortunately, he tripped over the landing skid, or he probably would have got my head! Boy, was I surprised when he stabbed me! I didn’t know what to think. But when he pulled it out for another try, well, I just knew the folks didn’t need my insurance money that bad! So I shot him in the god-damn head with my M-16. Twenty rounds right through the mother-fuckin’ skull at a range of three feet! Figured I owed it to myself. His friggin’ head fell apart like a watermelon.

So here I am with two weeks to do layin’ on my hairy ass. They won’t even let me get up. They’ve  got me so doped up with pain-killers, I doubt if I could get up!

Last night a few of the boys dropped in & gave me some smokes and a few beers. It’s nice to know ya got real friends.

So how’s married life treatin’ ya? Is it as good as you thought? If you have any problems, just ask the old Professor, here. Fix ya right up. Well, I gotta crash for now. More next time. Your brudder, Rog

Rog said later that most of his helicopter missions flew to support Marines who were fighting very close to the border between North and South Vietnam, just north of Quang Tri Province. They used a lot of Agent Orange defoliant there. That was the last letter I got from Rog from Vietnam. After he got home, after he mustered out, the Army gave Rog a choice of vocational schools so he could return to normal life. He received training in “waste water management” at a Florida school, met and married Maureen, and spent the next 30 years as a water treatment operator working in Palo Alto, California with his beloved “Mo”. Rog died suddenly in 2000 at the age of 52. Mo died shortly thereafter.

Letters from Viet Nam, 3

I actually got Rog’s final letter from Nam first, and then this one, because he misplaced this letter for a while.

June 11 1970 “North of Everywhere”

Dear Newlywed, Kowabunga, kid! How’s it going? Bet yer spendin’ a lot time in the saddle. Heh, heh. So much for my dirty mind. On to other things. Hope you’re both happy, & don’t have to struggle too damn hard. I’m glad you’re coming back to good ol’ San Whozits. (San Jose). I’ve got 227 (censored) days left over here. In  other words, I’ll see you in January. If I luck out and get a drop, I might make Xmas or New Year’s. The way things are goin’ over here I doubt if I’ll extend. I told Mom & Dad I quit flying as a gunner because they worry so much. So don’t blow my cover!

Okay, if you can’t find Quang Tri on the map forget it because everything else is way south. Look at the D.M.Z. & estimate 5 miles south of that & 3 miles west of Laos. That’s us. Dig it? We’ve flown into Laos twice on Visual Recons. But I’ll tell ya, each time I almost shit my pants! We even low-leveled into the D.M.Z. once. We also got the piss shot out of our ship! Man, they threw everything but the toilet bowl at us. Check this out. We received fire from R.P.G’s (rocket propelled grenades), mortars, AK-47 rifles, .51 cal machine gun, & even a friggin’ 37 mm radar controlled cannon! Christ on a cupcake, Quang Triwhat a rouse scene. Listen to this. I fired every fucking round of ammo I had. 1000 rounds of machine gun, 200 rounds of M-16 rifle & 50 of .45 cal pistol. Then I told the pilot, “You better retran for home in this damn crate, because I just ran out of bananas to throw.” So we did. But we had to crash at Firebase Rakkasan, just a mile from home. No sweat, we were only 20 feet off the ground. That ship had so many damn holes in it it looked like a swiss cheese. Guess that was a lick on our ass, eh? But them gooks paid for a lot of those holes. We were droppin’ ’em like flies! You don’t think I wasted all them bullets on tine cans do ya? But that was last week Wonder what they wanna do for an encore this week. Who knows? Wait, I’ve got it! “Today the D.MZ., tomorrow…Red China!!!” Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. These dumb lifers will send us anywhere they feel like, while they sit back here on their fat asses.

This week one of our Huey’s got shot down by an R.P.G. (a gook rocket.) Everyone was wounded. The rocket hit through the roof right behind the right side door gunner, Leo Moore. He got a lot of shrapnel in the back, but he’ll be alright. But he won’t be back here. They sent him back to the world. Lucky him. The other gunner, John Parcher got shot in the leg. He’s going back to the world, too! Lucky dudes. (2 July 70) Well, I finally found this letter. It was in my flak jacket. (Who’d of ever thunk it?” A minor correction to page four: Leo Moore came back & even had the distinguished pleasure to be with me the same day I got it! So he’s in the same place as me. I’ll bet this is gettin’ to be old hat to him. Well, I think I’ll launch this into the mailbox. Ta. The One & Only, Rog

P.S. Joining a reserve unit sounds like a smart move for a married dude. Which one? Keep punchin’. Rog

(next: letter four, War wound)

Quang Tri map, retrieved 9.22.2017

Letters from Viet Nam, 2

Der Phil, Greeting from sunny South Viet Nam (20 Feb 70). I know, I know. I’m a finky creep for not writing sooner, but I had such a riot on leave I didn’t write anybody! Up until now I’ve been too busy, but here it is. Arrived in-country the 28th of January. Took Jungle training until the 12 of February. Already I’ve got a war story fer ya. But that can wait for a minute. I arrived in Bien Hoa on the 28th & moved to Long Binh the same day. They’re both replacement depots. Three days later we flew north to Eagle at Phu Bai. The next day we went north to Camp Evans for Jungle Training which was the un-godliest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. Since the 13th I’ve been up here at Thunder. Just take a wild guess at what is due north of usletter 2by five miles. Yer right! The D.M.Z. (demilitarized zone: the border between North and South Vietnam). Anyway back to my spine-chilling war story. I’d been on bunker guard three nights straight when it happened. Here’s the layout: The main bunker has the machine gun & grenade launcher in it. My buddy Haydon was in there. There’s a smaller backup bunker on each side of the big one. My other buddy Kehoe (both guys I knew from A.I.T. advanced infantry training) & myself were in these. I was on the right, him on the left. We were each armed with our M-16’s, 21 clips of ammo apiece, and six fragmentation grenades each. Dig it? I think it was about 2 A.M. when we heard the first noise. Haydon called in for illumination & very shortly we had it. They use parachute flares, which made it as bright as day. Sure as hell, I knew the game was fixed. Twenty-seven gooks came chargin’ out of the rice paddies at us. I mean, that ain’t even fair odds. They were only about a hundred feet away, and that’s not much when they’re spittin’ AK-47 rounds at you. So Haydon opened up with the machine gun. He got about half of ’em in about five seconds. Me & Kehoe started workin’ out with the hand frags & blasted a mess of ’em all over the field. I polished off the last three with my M-16 & a little fancy footwork. Ta da! The whole show only lasted about a minute. If it’d taken any longer I wouldn’t be here rappin’ about it, cause those last three gooks were gettin’ ready to crawl into my bunker & cuddle up real close when I zapped ’em. When it was over, we were scared, but happy that we’d pulled it off. Believe me Phil, it ain’t like on T.V. Nobody stuck their head out any further than necessary, and nobody pulled a John Wayne. To hell with him, it’s a lot safer my way.

So the next day when we got off guard they held a big ceremony and gave each of us a medal. Not quite. You’re still thinking of the T.V. version. That morning we were all called into the C.O.’s (commanding officer) office and busted from Spec 4 to P.F.C. Guess why. Give up? Because we neglected to call in and obtain permission to fire on those gooks. That’s fine with me. They can bust me every day if they want. But I’ll be damned if I’ll spend 5 minutes trying to phone T.O.C. (tactical operations center). Talk when Charlie’s on my doorstep. They can hang it up. I’ll save the formalities for later. So much for that.

You’re probably wondering just where I’m at. So am I! Here ’tis. I’m at Headquarters Company of the 3rd Brigade Aviation Section at Thunder. 101st Airborne Division. Dig it! “Screaming Eagles” is our name. Don’t worry. You don’t have to write all that on the envelope. Ya know, I always used to kid around about that Airborne Ranger stuff, but I never thought I’d be one. Shows you what kind of tricks life will play on you. Oh well. One consolation is that they have a neato keeno unit patch to wear. So now you can tell all yer friends & neighbors that yer brother is a Pukin’ Buzzard. (Rhymes with “Screaming Eagles”). Isn’t that grand. The next time you see me in my monkey suit with all the airborne goodies on it, everyone will look with awe & wonder in their hearts, and say, “Who was that masked man?” … Or you could introduce me as the world’s only living 185 lb. Coors beer bottle. They might believe that.

So anyway I’m finally on the job. Putting to use what it took them six months to teach me. And it goes like this; I’m in charge of the care & feeding of three 7.62mm mini-guns. Five 7.62mm M-60D machine guns. Three M-5 grenade launchers. I load, repair & install these little darlings twice a day. Plus two hours paper work thrown in for laughs. Here’s the story. I work 18 hours one day. The next day I sleep ’til noon & have the night off. So it’s 6AM ’til midnight one day & 1P.M. ’til 5P.M. the next. That means I have every other night off, unless I have guard duty, like tonight. So I guess I’ll live through it.

Well, so much for me, how ya doin’ kid? Did ya ever move into that chicken coop? (note: I was pondering inexpensive housing during college). It’s probably better than the hole in the ground I live in. Do you think you could dig on a pad with wall to wall sandbags & armor plate insulation? Wooden floors, too. The inside looks like an old whaling boat. I’ll send you some pictures when I get another camera. Someone stole mine. Would you send some pics of you & yer bride to be? I think yer a fink fer gettin’ hitched while I’m gone. But that’s life.

Let me know what’s happening back there. Let me know for sure when the wedding is & you better send me a bunch of pictures. If you don’t, you better sell the shithouse, ’cause yer ass is mine when I get back. Dig? Well, gotta play with my guns for a while. More later. Your Hero & Mine, Rog

(next: Helicopter door-gunner)