Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

No One Else

Darwin and I have been listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, an artsy rendering of part of War and Peace by Tolstoy. (Spoiler alert: the great comet is as negligible an element of the show as it was in the novel. But I'm sure it looked spectacular on stage.)

This musical did a lot of avant-garde stuff, but I think one of the reasons it couldn't breach the mainstream consciousness like Hamilton is because it seems to actively eschew singable melodic lines for an emotional soundscape which relies heavy on recitative. I don't need all the fingers on one hand to count the songs that have a tune that you can hum. 

The best of these songs, however, is a beautiful aria by Natasha, alone and lonely, reflecting on how she met her absent fiancĂ©, Prince Andrey. 



The moon—

First time I heard your voice
Moonlight burst into the room
And I saw your eyes
And I saw your smile
And the world opened wide
And the world was inside of me

And I catch my breath
And I laugh and blush
And I hear guitars 
You are so good for me

I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you

Oh the moon
Oh the snow in the moonlight
And your childlike eyes
And your distant smile
I’ll never be this happy again
You and I
And no one else

We’ve done this all before
We were angels once
Don’t you remember?
Joy and life 
Inside our souls
And nobody knows
Just you and me
It’s our secret

This winter sky
How can anyone sleep?
There was never such a night before!
I feel like putting my arms round my knees
And squeezing tight as possible
And flying away
Like this...

Oh the moon
Oh the snow in the moonlight
And your childlike eyes
And your distant smile
I’ll never be this happy again
You and I
You and I
You and I
And no one else

Maybe he’ll come today
Maybe he came already
And he’s sitting in the drawing room
And I simply forgot

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Do Not Bind Up Heavy Labels

Some of the same Catholics who believe that abortion is wrong but feel that "pro-life" is too freighted a term to want to use it without careful qualifiers about what they do and do not want to be seen as aligning with seem to be willing to say that the only reason why someone would be hesitant to identify with the phrase "Black Live Matter" is they're racist.

Maybe I'm just getting middle-aged and tired, or maybe it's that I've actually come to understand how a lot of people bridle at being told that they MUST endorse some particular phrase or else they are support a clear evil, but I don't think it's a good idea to go around telling people "if you don't rally behind the political movement that I think will solve Evil XYZ, then clearly you support Evil XYZ!" It's not actually a very persuasive argument, and if you do manage to persuade someone it may be in the opposite direction, causing them to conclude: "Fine. If all those people say I must endorse Evil XYZ, then I will."

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Would You Like A Signed Copy of my Novel?

If You Can Get It is now available. Perhaps it would be audacious to say "wherever books are sold", but it is available directly from Ignatius Press, from Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and from any bookstore which stocks Ignatius novels. I'd also encourage anyone so inspired to ask their library to acquire it.

But as our blog readers have been a huge support to us in our novel writing, I'd like to give everyone the chance to have a signed copy of If You Can Get It, so I've got two ways for this to happen.

Signed Book Giveaway
I'll be giving away a signed copy of If You Can Get It via a drawing here on the blog. If you'd like to put your name in the virtual hat, email me at and say you're like to be part of the book giveaway. I'll have the youngest Darwin draw names from the literal hat in one week, Saturday Aug. 1st, and notify the winner. If you already have a copy, you can still enter the drawing and either get a second copy or have me send a copy to the person of your choice.

Bookplate Giveaway: Turn Your Copy Into A Signed First Edition
If you already own a copy, or you aspire to get one, or you simply want a handsome sticker to decorate your laptop lid, I've acquired a set of bookplates which I can sign and send out. If you'd like a signed bookplate, email me at and let me know:

1) the address you'd like me to mail the bookplate to

2) how you'd like the bookplate addressed, and any special message (example: "To Aunt Polly, Hoping this book will be some recompense for the hedgehog incident") Otherwise, I'll just write something non-controversial such as "I hope you enjoy the novel"

Thanks again for your support of our writing over the years. If you feel so inspired, it would be a huge help for readers to post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and if you have your own blog provide a review for your readers. With a hard-to-categorize novel such as this coming our from a small press, word of mouth is really the only way for this work to find its readership. If you have a blog or podcast or some such and would be willing to do a review or interview, feel free to email me.

UPDATE: Cliff reminds me down in the comments that although I've been living book promotion a lot lately, not all our readers are as familiar with it. So the quick pitch: If You Can Get It is a light, contemporary novel dealing with work, family, and the balance between the two.

The back cover blurb is:
Jen Nilsson has an MBA, a nice condo, and a fast-track job at a tech start-up in Silicon Valley. If her big product launch goes well next month, she may finally land the marketing director job she's been gunning for. But then her younger sister, Katie, just out of college and estranged from their newly devout parents, blows through the front door, dumping cardboard boxes and a lifetime of personal drama onto Jen's just-swept floor.

Family is family, and Jen lets her sister, the embodiment of all that annoys her, move in. Maybe she'll turn aimless Katie into a model adult. But when Jen's own well-laid career plans hurtle off the tracks--a corporate buyout, a layoff, and a disastrous business trip to China--she turns more and more to Katie for support and begins to reassess the place of family, and love, in her life.

If You Can Get It explores the quirks and the humanity of the twenty-first-century business world but finds its heart in the deepening relationship of two sisters as different as Elinor and Marianne of Sense and Sensibility.

Genre-wise, it's kind of hard to classify, and in this sense Ignatius really took a risk on a new author because it makes it much harder to market than a novel which fits neatly in a bucket such as SF, Fantasy, mystery, or romance. Addressing the difficulty of defining the genre, one reader said: "To me, it feels like you wrote it for humans who think the world is interesting and life has meaning, or for people who might be subtly convinced of the same by a novel."

Here's a review which I thought captured it pretty well and is somewhat longer.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

History After the Apocalypse

The title of this post is the title of a book I really want to read, a book that so far as I can tell does not exist, and yet a book which I'm probably not competent to write.

The story of that stretches from 1492 to perhaps the late 1800s (when the last of the American Indian tribes in what had become the US were confined to clearly defined reservations) is a story of clashing civilizations -- clashes that were often at least partly military in nature. We know, to some extent, these stories ranging from the conquistadors' attack on Tenochtitlan to the Battle of Little Bighorn. But in the background of those explicit clashes between colonial and native powers was a medical, technological, and civilizational apocalypse that was going on in slow motion from 1492 on.

As Europeans and colonists interacted with the native cultures, they brought with them (often unknowingly, sometimes knowingly) a set of diseases which were common in Europe but unknown in the Americas: smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, plague. The whole range. They also brought animals and technologies (horses, guns, etc.) which had not previously been available. And between these diseases, these technologies, and the pressures of the interacting civilizations, the native civilizations which confronted Europeans and later Americans were not the same cultures that would have existed in their absense.

To pick one example: when we read about Squanto, the member of the Patuxet Tribe who interacted with the Puritan settlers near Plymouth in the 1620s, there's a whole background history which is not that of friendly tribesmen meeting Europeans for the first time. Squanto had actually been tricked into boarding an English vessel back in 1614 and taken to Spain. In Gibraltar ship captain Thomas Hunt tried to sell his Native American prisoners into slavery, but a group of friars freed them and instructed them in the Christian faith. Squanto later lived for some period of time in England, traveled with English sailors to Newfoundland, and then sailed down the coast, also with Europeans, from Newfoundland back to Plymouth. In the meantime, the Patuxet tribe had been decimated by diseases caught from Europeans, and they were under military pressure from tribes further inland who were trying to move into their territory. In this context, we see the Patuxet tribe offering hospitality to the Puritan settlers.

Or to move forward a couple hundred years in history, the Plains Indians with whom the US Cavalry famously clashed in the mid 1800s were a set of civilizations which had already been significantly changed by European contact. The horses that they rode were not a species native to the Americas, but were the result of the introduction of horses into the Americas by the Spanish. They had adopted metal edged weapons (technology which had not existed in the Americas before) and firearms. So, for instance, the Comanche were a fairly peripheral Native nation until they became the masters of horse-based hunting and warfare, with which they proceeded to dominate a large swathe of the southern plains.

To the other Indian nations which the Comanche sometimes terrorized, the sudden power of this particular tribe must have seemed like yet another aspect of a growing apocalypse of disease, technological change, military incursions, and new upstart powers.

Obviously, every part of the world has its currents of change. When Europeans first came in contact with the Americas, Spain and Portugal were two of the greatest powers, England was a comparative upstart, Russia was dominated by the Mongols, and the Ottoman Empire was a major threat to European kingdoms. A lot changed over the following four hundred years, and only some of that was directly related to happenings in the Americas. Similarly, there would doubtless have been lots of change in the Americas even without the arrival of Europeans.

But because of the direction of disease, technology, and population flow, to many native cultures it must have seemed particularly apocalyptic: pandemics with fatality rates that Europe hadn't seen since the Black Death or before, radical new technologies, and the pressure of a seemingly endless stream of new people looking for land to live on in their very different ways.

There's a lot of fiction which attempts to imagine apocalyptic events befalling our modern culture (and in 2020 that seems a bit on point) but to my knowledge there's not a book which focuses on the apocalypse which played out on the other side of the cultural barrier from us during the centuries of Euro-American expansion at the expense of native cultures, and I'd really like to read a history written from that point of view.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Dreary Flickering of the Mind

From our current readaloud, The Screwtape Letters, as the devils strategize about how best to handle a human who has recently had an experience of grace (letter 13):
It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
And from letter 12, always one that convicts me:

As this condition [reluctance to think of God because it means truly repenting] becomes more fully established, you will gradually be freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's newspaper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, 'I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.' The Christians describe the Enemy as one 'without whom Nothing is strong.' And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off. 

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the an away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
We are in a slight post-vacation malaise, which consists of listlessly scrolling through dreary social media posts. We both of us know that we would feel better if we would settle down to write, but writing feels like so much effort, with so little to show for it at the end of the night. The present effort, however, matters -- trying, however weakly, to tap into God's creative powers, is always going to be a more eternally significant endeavor than hitting "refresh" one more time.

If you're feeling the malaise, read The Screwtape Letters along with us. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Take and Read

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. Very long time readers may even remember the early draft of it.

It's been a very long path, but this week If You Can Get It is available from Ignatius Press in both hard copy and ebook. It's on an early-release sale at the moment, and if you want to support the only Catholic publishers which takes the risk of printing new fiction, I encourage you to go buy it direct from their site. Amazon also has If You Can Get It available from their Kindle store, but they won't have physical copies available for another week or two, though you can pre-order.

Here's the back cover description:
Jen Nilsson has an MBA, a nice condo, and a fast-track job at a tech start-up in Silicon Valley. If her big product launch goes well next month, she may finally land the marketing director job she's been gunning for. But then her younger sister, Katie, just out of college and estranged from their newly devout parents, blows through the front door, dumping cardboard boxes and a lifetime of personal drama onto Jen's just-swept floor.

Family is family, and Jen lets her sister, the embodiment of all that annoys her, move in. Maybe she'll turn aimless Katie into a model adult. But when Jen's own well-laid career plans hurtle off the tracks—a corporate buyout, a layoff, and a disastrous business trip to China—she turns more and more to Katie for support and begins to reassess the place of family, and love, in her life.

If You Can Get It explores the quirks and the humanity of the twenty-first-century business world but finds its heart in the deepening relationship of two sisters as different as Elinor and Marianne of Sense and Sensibility.
One of the things I wanted to do with this novel was address the experience of Catholicism in modern America from a somewhat outside perspective. My main character, Jen, grew up as a Christmas and Easter Catholic, but since she went to college and moved away from home, her parents have reverted to a more active participation in their faith. Catholicism is thus something that's both familiar and alien to her, and as several characters who do have conflict with the Catholic subculture come into the story, Jen is repeatedly confronted with lived Catholicism in forms that seem unfamiliar or even unsettling. With falling away, conversion, and reversion being such common experiences in the modern Church, I think this is a very common set of experiences, and one which those of us who live within the subculture often don't run into.

Another thing I really wanted to work with in the novel was the developing relationship between two sisters who are far enough apart in age that they've never really known each other as adults. Jen moved to the West Coast immediately after college, and so when her ten-years-younger sister Katie unexpectedly moves in with her, she has to form an adult relationship with someone she last lived with when Katie was eight years old.

Finally, I wanted to use the novel to provide a realistic view of the kind of corporate environment in which many of us live most of our waking hours. So often, novel heroine's either work in picturesque little cafes or bookshops, or they have "creative professional" jobs at businesses such a fashion magazines. These can provide heartwarming or comic settings, but they often don't bear much resemblance to the business world as I've experienced it, and I think that the business world can actually be a pretty interesting place, both in the challenges it presents and the human dramas that play out in it. So I wanted to show both why Jen finds her job so absorbing. Yes, perhaps she's a bit over-focused on her career at times, letting it get in the way of her family relationships, but she's also really good at it and finds it fascinating. And I'm gratified to find that many readers have found this aspect interesting as well. One of the Amazon reader reviews says, "I never thought I would love a novel that spends many pages on modern business culture, and yet HERE I AM."

I hope you'll enjoy If You Can Get It, and if you do please feel free to cry it from the rooftops and encourage everyone else to read it as well.

Go West Young Darwins!

It has been quite here as of late, and that is mainly because we have been on vacation. Long, long ago, last winter, we had said we should take a family vacation in honor of our eldest heading off to college. Up till now, all of our vacations have been family get-togethers or reunions with old friends. We'd never gone somewhere just to see things and relax. So vacation for vacation's sake was the goal of this vacation, and the graduate suggested Yellowstone as the place she'd like to see.

As the crow drives (if crows could drive) it is twenty-five hours of drive time from our town outside of Columbus, OH to Yellowstone's north entrance. We took it in three days.

The first day was a big driving day. Our goal had been to leave the house as six, and we pulled out of the driveway by six-thirty, which is near record-breaking promptness for our family of nine. We drove to Fort Dodge, Iowa with not much more than a couple pauses at rest stops to consume sandwiches made of deli meat and cheese from the cooler. Despite the pandemic, rest stops were mostly open and were a reliable source of bathrooms as were gas stations. Many fast food places were drive through only.

The kids became connoisseurs of rest stop seesaws.

Out plan on Day Two, was to drive from Fort Dodge to De Smet, South Dakota and see various Laura Ingalls Wilder related sites, then continue on a couple hours before stopping for the night.

De Smet is well worth a visit. We'd listened to On the Shores of Silver Lake as we drove and this turned out to have been the perfect book to have listened to since the first thing you see on the Historic Homes tour is the surveyor's house in which the Ingalls spend the winter of 1879/80 in that book. Laura describes it as the largest house they had yet lived in, and that really tells you something because it is quite small.

Right next to the surveyor's house (which itself has been moved from its original location) is the one room schoolhouse which Laura and Carrie attend in The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie. It's been restored to something like it's original condition after having served as a home for some years after being used as a school.
During normal times, this visit is a lot more hands on, but due to the nature of the times, were weren't supposed to be touching anything.

The final original Ingalls building on the tour is a few blocks away, and is the house in town which Charles Ingalls built for the family two years after Laura's marriage. This house (expanded several times by Mr. Ingalls until it reached its current configuration) looks like a fairly standard Victorian wood house, so the impressive thing here is perhaps that it was built almost exclusively by one man who wasn't even a builder by trade. Here you can also see a lot of original Ingalls artifacts.

The gift shop building back at the start of the tour not only has a number of Little House related books, but also some displays of family documents, pictures, etc. Overall, the tour was well worth it, and we enjoyed it a lot. We took the opportunity to pick up a copy of the annotated Pioneer Girl (Laura's original unpublished memoir of which the children's series was an expansion and fictionalization) and Rose Wilder Lane's two novels based on her mother's materials.

The other De Smet attraction is the Ingalls Homestead living history attraction. This is on the original homestead land where Charles Ingalls had his claim. They've built a recreation of the homestead shanty in its final expanded form described in Little Town on the Prairie, and that recreation stands pretty much where the original house stood. A few of the original cottonwood trees which Pa planted still stand on the property. Other buildings are recreations of other buildings described in the books or are used in the living history activities. We arrived just as things were shutting down at 5:00pm, but the entire thing is open without admission cost after their business hours are over, so we were able to look around. It was fascinating to see the size of a homestead claim and what the actual topography was like in the area after having read the books all these years.

One of the highlights for the kids was that there were kittens in the barn that wanted to be played with.

The next day we drove about seven hours, but with an extended stop in the middle to visit Badlands National Park. I hadn't known much about Badlands prior to this trip. I'd picked it because it was directly along the way and the pictures I saw online were impressive. We were really glad we made the stop. The badlands themselves are amazing to look at, and since they're formed by erosion the park service allows people to walk around on them as they like. We also got the chance to see prairie dogs and big horn sheep while in the park.

We had one more stop before going to Yellowstone itself: the Museum of the Rockies. This is the final resting place of Big Al, the allosaurus who lived fast and died young in our favorite dinosaur special, The Ballad of Big Al, (narrated by Kenneth Branagh.) It turns out that The Museum of the Rockies doesn't see Big Al as the central star of their show the way that we did, but he's there and worth the visit.

We had wanted to stay somewhere nice while visiting Yellowstone, and of course we needed somewhere that could accommodate nine people. We found a historic log house on land ten minutes drive from the north entrance. If you ever need a place to stay with a large family near Yellowstone, we can't recommend it enough. It was so wonderful we wished we could spend more time just hanging around there.

The park itself is amazing, and the two and a half days we had looking around inside were just enough to hit a few highlights. You could easily spend a week just on Yellowstone itself. If planning your own trip, keep in mind that the drive time between different parts of the park is significant. We put three hundred miles on the van just driving around the park.

We did the usual volcanic features: Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. We also hiked the south rim trail along the "grand canyon of Yellowstone" and saw the waterfalls. That was a really good hike, and MrsDarwin and I wished we could have done more like it, but it wore the kids out badly and features a few points where it was very necessary to hold on to the younger kids lest any small adventurers take a sudden plunge down a slope. We also took an evening drive up through the Lamar Valley. We got to see lots of bison on that drive, and also spotted a wolf in the distance (no picture, as without strong binoculars it just looked like a moving black speck) and fell in with a group of wolf chasers who had been following it as it ran parallel to the road taking a hunk of bison meat home to its pups. We spent an exciting forty-five minutes driving with the wolf chasers from overlook to overlook and watching the wolf.

Since we were so far west, we drove another day to visit a college friend who farms in central Idaho. We'd gone through a lot of farmland by the point, but nothing quite compared with the huge fields on Idaho's high prairie. Our friend's family has about six thousand acres under cultivation.

From this furthest point, it was three long driving days back to Ohio. We put nearly 5,000 miles on the car in total during the vacation, but the kids were troopers and we saw amazing amounts of this wide country.