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.

How I Became a Gold Hunter, Part Four

So, off I went into the wild kingdoms of stone where so many gold hunters had gone before, searching for the precious gleaming wealth one man said lay hidden within a lakPhilip at Pyramid Lake_Coo Yui Pah_1990e. I forgot to mention, besides my camping gear, clothing and water, I brought food called ‘trail mix’, a combination of dried fruit and nuts. Trail mix keeps me strong and also negates the need for dangerous fire-making and bad cooking.  Also, bears love it. I’ve never been bothered by bears while camping in the mountains, but to be safe, I always suspend food over a tree branch on a rope. I followed a steep trail that was exhausting, but my strenuous workout was only just beginning. Even though this was July, the rugged trail ended in a ten-foot wall of snow. With sun for compass, I went off-trail into trackless wilderness. That first night I camped high on a ridge overlooking a deep granite bowl of a valley that contained three jewel-like lakes. Darkness fell amazingly fast and the sky filled with stars that looked like tiny campfires. Far to the east  in the Nevada basin country I could see thunderstorms, pulsing globes of distant light.

The next day I hiked into the beautiful valley, although ‘galloping’ was more like it. The steep slope was completely covered with tangled shrubs and vines so thick I sank into and sprang out as if I was bounding down a giant mattress. I fell a dozen times and rose again knowing my return climb would not be nearly as joyous and I would need to find another way out of the valley. I spied a small deer and followed it into a side canyon and never saw it again. There was a small granite bowl of a lake not too big to throw a stone across. But in my novel, I parlayed this homely specimen of deer into a grand mystic white buck leading the adventurer to the hidden and incredible Gold Lake–the ancient volcanic entrance into the mysterious California Motherlode.

I camped at the edge of this lonely lake and that night something magic happened, nothing to do with heavy treasures of stone. Some crackling, crunching thing awakened me somewhere past midnight, perhaps the deer or a night-visiting bear. I got up to look around and saw nothing terrifying. But in the lake, there was something wonderful. The constellation of stars known as the Big Dipper lay stretched out just above the rim of rocks that hid the lake. And there on the glass surface was a vision more memorable than gold: The water held a perfectly reflected image of the Big Dipper as if the stars existed both in the water and in the sky. This was an indication, a symbol to me of the treasure I was seeking in these ancient California mountains and it inspired and informed all of that which I was yet to write. There really was a secret treasure in the Sierras no ordinary man would find.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about this mysterious lake and the true gold of the Sierra Nevada in my four-part novel, The Goldfinder Series: Book One, The Gold Hunter; Book Two, The Gold Shaper; Book Three, The Gold Soldier; Book Four, The Heart of Gold Lake. (




Calm the Storm

Originally published: August 6, 2016

Somewhere in the future of humankind the weather forecaster warns the people of a hurrican eyegreat hurricane coming from the sea. But instead of telling them to evacuate and run for their lives, the forecaster urges them to hurry to their God Center. In the future churches are called the God Center because people have finally realized that God is omnipotent, everywhere at once, the center of every thing, the power of every thing.

Hundreds of thousands of people hurry to the many nearby temples. Others remain at home and sit in a room they have dedicated to prayer and peace. But it is not like the old days. These people are unafraid and full of faith. The great multitudes of humankind calm their minds and hearts–and then they pray.

And the great hurricane dissolves itself at sea. The people rejoice, thanking God for giving humankind a way to calm the storm. And then they go back to their many good works. It is not like the old days. Now people are calm and know prayer is powerful and they have great faith in God who is the God of every thing. The people of faith do not believe prayer works, they know prayer works.

One of the great Masters stood up and commanded the wind, “Be quiet!” and he said to the waves, “Be still!” The wind died down, and there was a great calm. Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you so frightened? Do you still have no faith?” But they were terribly afraid and began to say to one another, “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

When you calm the storm of fear in your heart, at that time your prayer becomes full of power. May God teach all of us how to pray! Phil

How I Became a Gold Hunter: Part Three

Being a gold hunter is not for the fainthearted. Whether 1849 (when the California Gold Rush began) or 2017, gold is not found in any easy-to-reach location. Gold is the heaviest natural element, heavier than rocks or sand. Its specific gravity is 19.3, which is much heavier than lead (11.3), which means gold sinks to the bottom of any other material (saTrail below Long Lakend and gravel) and will keep right on sinking until it is stopped by something solid, that is: bedrock or boulder, or (very often) a crack or crevice in a slab of rock. Sandbars are good places to look for gold. Just be sure you dig all the way down to the bottom of the sand to the bedrock. When you find black sand (magnetic sand) you will be close to gold. This bottom layer of sand is called pay dirt. But, as I said, I wasn’t looking for gold. I was looking for a mysterious lake called Gold Lake.

I first became aware of Gold Lake while researching an original copy (1882) of a historical text called,  History of Plumas, Lassen & Sierra Counties, Farriss & Smith, (p 145) relates the original tale from which I drew my inspiration of the search for Gold Lake, as well as wonderful adventure tales and names of the real gold hunters. If you find yourself caught up in the golden spell of California Gold Rush History, I also recommend: History of Rich Bar, A Blue Ribbon Gold Camp, by Jim Young, which I used to model my camp called, Gold Nation, in my novel. Want to know what daily life was like in a real gold camp? The Shirley Letters by Dame Shirley (Louise Clappe) is a world-famous account (one of the most vivid accounts ever written) said to have influenced such luminaries as Mark Twain and Brett Hart. By the way, I visited this gold camp, still being actively mined on the Feather River, and visitors are not welcome. Historical and modern Rich Bar Gold Camp is far more interesting than the original ‘1848 Marshall Gold Discovery Site’ at Coloma and if I ruled the world should be a historical monument as a true treasure of California (as is Coloma). If you really go over the rainbow crazy about California gold, get a copy of Geologic History of the Feather River Country, California, by Cordell Durrell, a truly awesome book detailing an amazing volcanic history of upheavals that produced the northern California Sierra topography—and also the inspiration for the volcanic source of the Motherlode in my novel. Warning: You could get addicted to the real magic kingdom of California. (Hint: it’s not at Disneyland).

If you’d like to learn the nuts and bolts of actual gold hunting, panning, and extraction, (even just the armchair variety) try a wonderful little book/pamphlet called, Gold Fever, The Art of Panning and Sluicing, by Lois De Lorenzo, and also, book/pamphlet, Diving and Digging for Gold, by Mary Hill, which packs more gold-lore per inch than any other bigger book. (Interestingly, if you thought this was a man’s-game, both of these delightful booklets were written by women). And if you really want to get out there and find gold, The Complete Gold Country Guidebook tells you exactly where to plant your shovel and dip your pan in the California Motherlode Region.
After I left my river-gold friends, I headed on foot into the remote, geologically-crazed, granite kingdom of the High Sierra, delirious with gold fever and high confidence that I would be the one chosen to rediscover the location of the Lost Gold Lake. (To be continued.)

How I Became a Gold Hunter, Part Two

Philip at Decorah IowaBeing born in California, home to the greatest gold rush in history, probably helps bring out the gold hunter in anyone. The magnificent Sierra Nevada range runs from the Mojave Desert near Los Angeles all the way up the length of California to Mt. Lassen and Mt Shasta, for me, the most beautiful mountains on earth. I was probably imprinted with gold hunting fever at an early age. I met a Swiss visitor in Yosemite National Park who said, “The Alps are nothing compared to this.” It was a family trip to this park with my three boys where I first experienced symptoms of gold fever. We found glittering rocks along the edge of the Merced River and began yelling, “Gold, gold, gold!” A Native American watching from a distance stared at us soberly shaking his head. Of course, it was ‘fool’s gold’: iron pyrite, pretty glittering rocks, but nothing like the bright luminosity of real gold, which shines in the shade, which has been called the sun metal. Pure gold is so soft you can dent it with your teeth. Gold does not react to other metals; it doesn’t rust. Back in 1848 or ’49 gold may have been found along the banks like Easter eggs, but not anymore. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of gold left. A park ranger at Coloma (the original 1848 gold discovery site) told me very seriously: “There is more gold yet to be found than even the great sums taken from the earth in the last 170 years.” I wanted to believe him. This is musical candy to the gold hunter’s ears.
I began my raft ride on the Feather River early and it ended fast. Late July, the river water level was low, and I kept hitting rocks. I wanted this raft ride for the adventure, but also because I was writing a story called The Gold Hunter, about a young man who finds the lost Gold Lake, refuses to give up its location, and to scare him, bad men lash him into a canoe and send him down the white-foaming, raging river. I wanted to know what that felt like. I pictured my raft leaping and dodging among swells, snags and boulders, a nimble water horse on a magnificent water course. The reality was much different.
It was painful. As I sat in the raft, I got punched in the rear end by barely submerged boulders. If I knelt in the raft, my knees got hammered by the hidden boulders. A few minutes later, paddling madly, I crashed into a granite wall and snapped off a paddle. I had no replacements. It was the end of my rafting. It had lasted fifteen minutes. In a bad mood of fury and shame, I dragged my raft back to my car and drove up to where I had stashed my camping gear. My new friends were already in the river. They were wearing diver’s wetsuits, goggles and wearing 50-pound weight belts so they could walk underwater on the bottom of the river. I told them about my brief raft ride and they nodded knowingly. They waved and went under. A big six-inch hose emptied a continuous stream of water and debris on the boat, onto a riffle, and then out the other end. My friends were underwater ‘vacuuming’ the river bottom. This is how modern gold hunting is done. Since I was a writer and explorer (and not a rival), they allowed me a few days with them. They shared their secrets. They showed me their treasure. I didn’t realize how unusual this was at the time. Gold hunting and especially gold finding is highly secretive work. Not a good idea to let anyone know you’ve hit the jackpot. A rough-looking stranger called down to us one day while we were eating lunch wondering if we had any luck. My partner yelled back in a big bass voice, “Just making wages.”
The treasure my gold hunting friends gave me was knowledge and pleasant companionship. They knew nothing of a lost lake. But they knew rumors of an ancient river, ‘Old Blue’ buried somewhere in the mountains and said to contain vast reserves of gold in its banks. I wished them good luck finding ‘Old Blue’. They wished me good luck finding my lost lake. (To be continued).

400 Pound Slab of Limestone Gives Heartache, Backache, and Egyptian Flashback

Limestone slab

I went to the landscape store to pick my stone for a wide step down to the ground from my new deck. All limestone slabs give me a thrill because of the massive amounts of time encased in beautifully layered stone, so I took my time enjoying myself in a field of roughly stacked piles of flat stones. The one I liked was almost six feet long, weighed 400 pounds, and roughly shaped like Australia. A friendly, smiling man loaded it into the back of my Ford pickup with a heavy forklift. “Have you got a loader at home?” I smiled back, saying, “Just me and my wife.” (We are both 60-something-ish). My exact thought was, If I lift one end at a time, that’s only 200 pounds. I can do it.

At home, I put on my power-lifting grip-gloves and after several manly heaves, realized this stone was not moving. I literally could not budge it. (I’m a retired UPS driver). I began to doubt the wisdom of having 400 pounds of flat slab sitting in the rubberized bed of a truck and wondered how bad the resale value of my Ford truck would be hurt with an immovable stone in the bed. A greater, darker fear emerged: What if you hurt your back? This rock could really knock you up. Game over. No more lifting and playing with the grandkids. No more careless afternoons in the garage doing work working projects. No more sleep for the rest of your life. I got out a scissor-jack from my wife’s Honda Fit.

Using it sideways, pushing with blocks and posts against the back wall of the truck bed, a piece of flat sheet metal beneath the front of the stone, I was able to move the stone about one-inch per minute of cranking the jack; retracting the jack; repositioning the blocks and posts; using a pickaxe to lift and reposition the path of the stone. This is when I began to feel like an Egyptian.

I thought: This is a mere flake of limestone compared to the giant blocks ancient men moved by the thousands. I began to appreciate them. How did you do it, guys? The only answer was: They knew something we no longer know—Mysteries of Moving Stone. Just try it and you’ll agree. They had something better than a Ford F150.

I created a bed of thin, used (rather slippery) plywood paneling for my mighty stone to fall upon, hopefully to slide upon, if I survived the fall.

After three hours of non-Egyptian pushing and shoving, I had the stone teetering on the edge of my tailgate (braced underneath by plywood and 4×4 posts) and was finally (with the help of my power-gloves) able to lift one end, and slide the other end to the ground. There the mighty slab stood, an Australian-shaped monolith leaning against my tailgate—while I pictured all the ways things could still go wrong trying to lower the stone to the ground: a crushed hand; a wrenched back; the truck tailgate gouged or buckled. (I could hear the Egyptians from 6,000 years ago snickering, jeering and laughing).

Since pride and pink-slip of my pickup were at stake, I manfully grabbed the top-heavy end of my Australia-shaped stone and pulled hard. It slipped an inch sideways, but would not come towards me. I was not man enough, or Egyptian enough. I pondered for an hour, sitting, sweating, sipping lime water (which is supposed to clarify thinking). Okay. The Egyptians took pity on me. They told me what to do.

I put a heavy wooden crate below where the stone would fall and pulled heartily on the bottom end of the stone. Then—like the shift of a continent, the bottom of the stone slid on slippery paneling and the top fell onto the crate. My beloved Ford was not hurt. My swift, powerful hands were not crushed. My back was only slightly tweaked. I took two days away from the stone to do more thinking.

Then—my wife and I, using blocks for fulcrums and 2×6 boards for levers—were able to incrementally, in just under two hours—shift the great Australo-Egyptian slab on its ten-foot journey to its new stepping-stone home below my deck. This, I assure you, is the last time my wife and I will ever move a 400 pound stone again. By the way, the new limestone step is beautiful, perhaps a million years old, and it will never move again so long as I live. The Egyptians whispered to me: Once you get it there, leave it alone.