One last time: I did not write ‘Speed on Wheels’

When I was a little kid, men who were the age that I am now, asked me if I was (or was named after) Sir Malcolm Campbell. I shrugged, indicating, maybe. Then I went and ask my dad, “Who the hell is this guy?” (Note, when I was in grade school I wasn’t actually allowed to use the word “hell.”)

I learned that he was a famous racecar driver who at various times during the 1930s and 1940s held the land and water speed records. And, he wrote the book Speed on Wheels about his exploits in his car named “Bluebird.”

The Campbell-Railton Blue Bird with a supercharged Rolls-Royce R V12 engine took the speed record at 301.137 mph in 1935. It’s probably not street legal though if it is, I don’t even want to know how much Allstate or State Farm would charge to insure it. If I’d persuaded my parents to let me buy that Jaguar I wanted, I would have found an Audubon-style license plate of a bluebird to put on the front.

However, this was not my car. Since it wasn’t (and still isn’t), I did not write this book:

Yes, this is an earlier car than the one shown above. When I told people I was a writer, some said “Congrats on Speed on Wheels.” I didn’t know whether to be flattered or to shout, “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

I wanted to get a picture of Campbell and say, “Does this look like me?”

“No, it doesn’t, does it?” Sure, maybe it’s all smoke and mirrors and this is me; the trouble is if it is me, I’m dead. Somebody somewhere looked at Campbell’s dare-devil life and said it’s amazing he died of natural causes. Unfortunately, his son Donald–who held both water and land speed records–was killed during a record attempt in 1967. I’m superstitious enough that I decided when I read the news that if I ever had a son, I wouldn’t name him Donald.

Summing up: I drive a 14-year-old Buick and it’s not blue. Its top speed is somewhere around 90 mph.

Malcolm

My books “College Avenue,” “At Sea,” and “The Sun Singer” will be free on Kindle for Black Friday, November 26th through November 30th.

Lusitania and other doomed ships

Last night, my wife and I watched another documentary about the Titanic (1,490–1,635 deaths), this one about a private notebook kept by the judge in the British hearing that–for reasons unknown–hadn’t been read by anyone. The documentary yielded a few interesting ideas, but little that was new.

Other than the discovery of Titanic by Robert Ballard in 1985, most documentaries have yielded very little that is new, though Ballard’s discovery confirmed what many survivors claimed and many experts denied, was the fact that the ship broke in half before it sank.

We speculated as we watched this documentary why there is so much more out there in documentary land about Titanic than other ships that sank, some with more casualties. White Star Line’s publicity about the ship? The famous people aboard? The fact that the accident was so preventable?

Hard to say.

Wikipedia photo

The first edition of The Last Voyage of the Lusitania (1,198 deaths) came out in 1957 a year before the Titanic movie A Night to Remember. I read the book before I saw the movie and found it more haunting.

Years later, I learned that 9,400 people died when the Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed in 1945 and that 4,386 people died when the Doña Paz sank in 1987.

We never hear anything about those disasters, or even about the Lusitania, much less the 1917 collision and subsequent explosion on board the SS Mont-Blanc of Halifax, Nova Scotia in which 1,782 confirmed deaths and a hard-to-believe amount of on-short devastation.

When the Night to Remember feature film came out in 1958, everyone saw it and talked about it and sang the 1952 original version of the song “When the Great Ship Went Down.” The 1997 film Titanic certainly got plenty of attention; it was a splashy production, that included the fact the ship broke in half and had that mesmerizing Jack and Rose story.

And yet, I continue to be drawn back to the Lusitania story and the swirl of anti-German propaganda that came after it. Much is made about the fact that the ship carried munitions, as though that means the “sinking doesn’t count” because it was a warship more than a passenger ship. I doubt the passengers knew they were sailing on a warship.

I have never feared the sea. I traveled to Europe by ship (though slower than Titanic!) and while in the Navy made three trips to the Western Pacific in an aircraft carrier. I always found the sea calming rather than boring and never worried about sinking. Yet the horror and chaos of major passenger ship disasters seem to tug at our heartstrings whether we’re reading about Lusitania or the 1914 Empress of Ireland disaster in the St. Lawrence River in which 1,012 died.

We seem to analyze and re-analyze these disasters as though when we get to the end of the documentary, book, or feature film, this time the ship won’t sink.

Maybe the fact that I grew up next to the sea and was a navy sailor has influenced me as I ponder these disasters and wonder what it would have taken to avoid them.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea,” a Vietnam War novel inspired by his experiences on board an aircraft carrier in the Western Pacific. It will be free on Kindle this weekend.

Black Friday Book Giveaway

Free Kindle Books

Three of my Kindle books will be free on my extended Black Friday giveaway from November 26th through November 30th.

College Avenue: Stories and PoemsIn “College Avenue,” a young woman describes an assault on a dark street to her boyfriend. In “Mr. Déjà vu Upsets the Apple Cart” a girl selling applies thinks she’s seen all this before. “Storybook” features a young man awaiting the tribe’s naming ceremony with seemingly nothing worthy in his growing up years to provide him with his adult name and in “Again and Again Throughout the Long Night” a son must tell his Alzheimer’s-stricken father that their wife and mother has died. In “Shock Treatment,” an elderly man’s children have him declared mentally incompetent and placed in a grim nursing home after he spends some of their anticipated inheritance money on a new car. A selection of poems rounds out the collection.

At SeaEven though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire. This novel was inspired by the author’s Vietnam-era experiences onboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger (CVA-61) shown on the book cover.

The Sun SingerRobert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates, and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see.

When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help.

On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.

I hope you enjoy your free book(s) and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Malcolm

It’s hard wishing people Happy Thanksgiving

We’re being told not to do the things we usually do at Thanksgiving. Don’t travel to see family or ask them to travel to see you. And, if friends and family live close at hand, you can’t have more than X people at the table.

That pretty much spoils the whole thing.

I picture the police sending SWAT teams through neighborhoods on Thanksgiving Day, peeking through dining room windows and counting the cars in the driveway. Since most of these rules were made by governors and mayors who don’t really have the power to issue such regulations, the police probably won’t need a warrant to bust in and arrest everyone at the table when the family gathering is larger than the law allows.

“Drop the turkey, put your hands up, and stand in a line against the wall.”

No doubt, the feast will be confiscated as evidence unless the cops eat it all, and then everyone’s screwed.

At my house, it’s just my wife and me except every other year when my brother and his wife come to visit. We’re in the clear. (I think.) So, we don’t have to hide granny and the baby in the attic while the cops are prowling around.

It occurs to me that the lockdown police might be staking out the grocery stores to see who’s buying more food than their family can lawfully consume. If I bought an 80-pound turkey, there would probably be a SWAT team in my yard on November 26th.

Just as long as they’re not counting toilet paper.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical comedy “Special Investigative Reporter.” One reviewer said the book was an excuse for wine and sex.

The new online map ain’t the old territory

When you set a story in the past and are researching its location, Google Maps isn’t the place to go. Why? Because looking at today’s online map, doesn’t tell you which of those roads were there twenty or thirty years ago.

Here’s a Google map of Liberty County where my four Florida Folk Magic novels are set:

Since I grew up in the area, I can tell you right off the bat that I-10 wasn’t there in 1954. We used highway 90 for east-west travel. Most state highways I know one way or another, but I can’t be sure of city streets.

If you can’t find anything online or in the library about road maps from an earlier era, one solution is going to a site like eBay where there are usually old road atlases and service station maps from almost every decade in the last fifty years.

A few dollars spent on a paper map is money well spent. You can, of course, rely on Google Maps Street View to get a general idea of what areas looked like, especially those out in the county where no new construction has occurred. When you do this, you often find out that certain roads are scenic byways and probably have separate websites where you can look up flora and fauna, including the yearly growing seasons for plants so you know when flowers appear. (Nothing worse than saying Flowers are blooming during a season when they’re not!)

Old maps and the websites describing protected areas will sometimes link to folklore and history sites–quite a treasure hunt.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Land Between the Rivers.” Since it’s set before there were any roads, the accuracy of highway maps wasn’t a research issue.

What’s all that green stuff?

Part of describing a locale in a novel is mentioning the green stuff outside the car window. Oaks and Pine trees and flowering shrubs are usually obvious. But what about the wildflowers and grasses?

Wikipedia Photo

I once knew a man who knew what every single piece of green stuff was, whether it grew in a forest, savannah, marsh, or coastal area. When he led tours, I was there as he not only named and described every plant and its seasonal cycle but told us how to know one plant from another.

If there had been a test, I would have flunked. Even if I’d crawled through it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between Bluebunch wheatgrass and rough fescue.

I have wildflower guides for most of the areas I write about. I’ve found others online. But occasionally, I come across (in my writing research) a place where my characters will interact in some way and realize that I can’t be sure what all the green stuff is.

Many state, federal, and private wildlife areas and private preserves list the specialists in charge of interpretation. They have been a godsend. For some books, I’ve asked about the prominent plants one sees when driving through a place. In others, where there are, say, Longleaf Pines and other trees that depend on fire, I’ve asked specialists what order the smaller understory plants return after a fire.

I owe a great debt to specialists who will take time to field questions from a novelist, some of which take quite a few pages to answer. I always try to note down their names and organizations and mention them in each book’s acknowledgments. It’s my kind of thank you and also a way of saying that I’m a writer and not a biologist.

Malcolm

Malcolm R.  Campbell is the author of “The Land Between the Rivers” which focuses on early Florida Folklore and animals.

Book Bits: Harlan Ellison, The Essay, Booker Prize, James Patterson

As “Poets & Writers” reports, this is a busy week in books news:  “Barack Obama’s highly anticipated memoir released today, the National Book Awards will be announced on Wednesday, the Booker Prize ceremony is on Thursday, and the Times will release its “100 Notable Books of 2020” list on Friday.” Seemed like a good day to post my first Book Bits in a while. 

  • NewsAn Epic Week for the Books Desk – “We talked to Pamela Paul, the editor of The Book Review, and Andrew LaVallee, a deputy editor on the Books desk, about how they’ve been preparing for the big week, the impact of the pandemic on the publishing world and what titles they’re keeping on their own night stands.” (The New York Times)
  • Wikipedia Photo
    Feature. Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions may finally be published by Alison Flood- “It is the great white whale of science fiction: an anthology of stories by some of the genre’s greatest names, collected in the early 1970s by Harlan Ellison yet mysteriously never published. But almost 50 years after it was first announced, The Last Dangerous Visions is finally set to see the light of day.” (The Guardian)
  • Interview. What Makes a Great American Essay? by Phillip Lopate – “Talking to Phillip Lopate About Thwarted Expectations, Emerson, and the 21st-Century Essay Boom.” (Literary Hub)
  • Upcoming Title: New Fiction from Robert Hays – “When faced with the end, how does one reconcile the pieces of an ordinary life? Does a man have the right to wish for wings to carry him to a summit he believes he doesn’t deserve to reach?” (Thomas-Jacob Publishing)
  • News: “The New York Times reports on the ongoing bidding over Simon & Schuster, which was put up for sale by its parent company, ViacomCBS, early this year. Penguin Random House and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, are considered leading bidders.” (Poets & Writers)
  • Point of View: Wikipedia, “Jeopardy!,” and the Fate of the Fact by Louis Menand – “Is it still cool to memorize a lot of stuff? Is there even a reason to memorize anything? Having a lot of information in your head was maybe never cool in the sexy-cool sense, more in the geeky-cool or class-brainiac sense. But people respected the ability to rattle off the names of all the state capitals, or to recite the periodic table. It was like the ability to dunk, or to play the piano by ear—something the average person can’t do. It was a harmless show of superiority, and it gave people a kind of species pride.” (New Yorker)
  • Wikipedia Photo
    News: Patterson Was Decade’s Bestselling Author by Jim Milliot – “From 2010 to 2019, James Patterson sold 84 million units across print and e-book formats, making him the past decade’s bestselling author at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Patterson’s sales total was double that of Dr. Seuss, and more than those of Stephen King, David Baldacci, and John Grisham combined, BookScan said.” (Publishers Weekly)
  • Book Bits used to be compiled randomly but now appears to be compiled sporadically by author Malcolm R. Campbell