Travis McGee, 48 years after the release date

If you were reading light-weight thrillers between 1964 and 1985, you might have had John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels on your nightstand. He wrote 21 of them, each with a color in its title. I wasn’t reading about Travis McGee 48 years ago because I preferred the novels MacDonald wrote before McGee came along in his old houseboat called the Busted Flush (won in a poker game). The series is similar in depth to the late Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington novels, though Barrington and McGee are very different personalities.

Nonetheless, McGee novels–told in the first person–had a lot of healthy snark, and many great turns of phrase that would work as the narrator’s voice-over in a noir movie. My favorite MacDonald novel was, in fact, used as the basis for my favorite neo-noir movie. His 1957 novel The Executioners was the basis for “Cape Fear” (1962). (Forget the 1991 remake that was more violent and less true to the novel.)

I’m among those who believe MacDonald turned out better stuff before he created Travis McGee even though he was probably better known for his Florida-based salvage consultant tho recovered lost property for a fee. In many ways, McGee is similar to Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike character who uses old-fashioned detective methods rather than computers to solve crimes Both Strike and McGee interview people and follow up leads.

I suppose my taste leans too much toward noir books and movies that I stayed away from the McGee series until my brother Barry and his wife Mary visited us several days ago and he lent me a copy of The Dreadful Lemon Sky.  Since I’m out of factory-fresh news novels, I decided to read it. I feel like a time machine has taken me back 48 years because the novel is anchored in the time in which it was written and–other than Strike–doesn’t fit into the detective genre as we find it today.

If you like told thriller novels, the colorful McGee series titles might be an interesting change of pace. Yet, I have a feeling that reading this one is an anomaly in the space-time continuum and that I won’t be heading out to Amazon to buy any more of them when I reach the end. Nonetheless, it’s held my attention.




(NEW YORK)–Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, issued the following statement in response to the attack on author Salman Rushdie:

“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie, who was reportedly stabbed multiple times while on stage speaking at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York.  We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil.  Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face.  Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered.  He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced.  While we do not know the origins or motives of this attack, all those around the world who have met words with violence or called for the same are culpable for legitimizing this assault on a writer while he was engaged in his essential work of connecting to readers.  Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery.  We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”

The most recent report I saw was that he was in surgery. A suspect is in custody.

Stephen King’s ‘Revival’ – the usual nasty King stuff in a padded-out novel

Nope, the book doesn’t cut it even though the concept is interesting and the story has many of the usual really bad things happening in it.

From the Publisher

The new minister came to Harlow, Maine, when Jamie Morton was a boy doing battle with his toy army men on the front lawn. The young Reverend Charles Jacobs and his beautiful wife brought new life to the local church and captivated their congregation. But with Jamie, he shares a secret obsession—a draw so powerful, it would have profound consequences five decades after the shattering tragedy that turned the preacher against God, and long after his final, scathing sermon. Now Jamie, a nomadic rock guitarist hooked on heroin, meets Charles Jacobs again. And when their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, Jamie discovers that the word revival has many meanings….

The problem with the plot comes from the span of time covered by the novel and that something has to fill up all those years until the BIG ENDING finally arrives.

Charles Jacobs is interested in a force he calls “secret electricity.” It works in the carny world for doing magic tricks and, according to Jacobs, it appears to cure people. Curing people finally becomes the focus of his business while in his spare time he plummets deeper and deeper into the sources and uses of this strange force.

The trouble is, there are side effects that are often not always apparent–at first. Some are transitory. Some are long-lasting and can ruin and/or end lives. Jamie Morton becomes just as obsessed with these side effects ad Jacobs is with his electricity experiments. Here’s where the padding in the story occurs. Jamie and another friend spent hours tracking down the people Jacobs has supposedly cured as well as the subset who finally went nuts.

While the is a fair amount of shock value to the kinds of side effects that occur, reading these pages is about like reading the phone book. Most of the people listed aren’t characters in the novel, so we have no buy-in when their names appear. This is all very tedious and without much of a point except, I guess, filling space.

Jacobs mentions the amusement park called Joyland which was a wonderful Stephen King novel. It’s almost a travesty seeing that name in this disappointing book.


So long, David McCullough, and thanks for all the books

“David McCullough, a towering force in American literature and biography, winner of the President’s Medal of Freedom, two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards, died on August 7. He was 89 years old.

“He died of natural causes at home in Hingham, the family confirmed, where he had lived for the past few years, with all five children by his side.

“Mr. McCullough devoted his writing life to telling the American story, beginning with his first book about the Johnstown Flood, published in 1968, and continuing to chronicle events, politicians and structures that made up the American experience. He followed up his debut with a book about building the Brooklyn Bridge, then headed to the creation of the Panama Canal (his first National Book Award). A book about Teddy Roosevelt followed (his second National Book Award) and then books on Harry S. Truman and John Adams, both of which won the Pulitzer Prize.” – Bill Eville in The Vineyard Gazette

In his story, Eville notes that everything McCullough wrote began on a 1940 Royal Typewriter that he bought second-hand in 1965 for $25. It works fine after all those words. In a 2011 interview, McCullough said that sometimes he thought that Royal was writing the books.

The subhead in the New York Times story said, “His research — on Adams, Truman and so much more — was deep, his writing was lively, and his narrator’s voice in documentary films was familiar to millions.”

The books found large audiences and spent weeks on the bestseller lists in part because readers who seldom read history read what McCullough and/or that old Royal typewriter wrote. My wife and I have most of his books, not because they look good on our shelves, but because we like them and respect his approach.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but my long-time fascination with Teddy Roosevelt prompts me to say I like Mornings on Horseback, the 1981 biography of Roosevelt, the best. Kirkus began its review, “The biographer of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal has written a marvelous book, now, about the making of an exceptional being—and nothing that has appeared before, including Edmund Morris’ recent The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, diminishes its interest or freshness or emotional force.”

The New York Times wrote, “Mr. McCullough tells his busy, interlocking story without ever losing track of his hero. Always at the center of things is T.R., evolving from a shrill semi-invalid into the robust warrior who would become the dominant figure of turn-of-the-century America. But though he writes with a novelist’s skill, Mr. McCullough never resorts to the novelist’s license to invent, never draws a conclusion not backed by hard facts. The result brings us as close as anyone will ever get to understanding the unique alchemy of the Roosevelt family – and its power to help and hinder Theodore in his rise.”

McCullough’s books on the Johnstown flood, the Brooklyn Bridge, Presidents Truman and Adams, and 1776 (among others) drew similar praise. McCullough’s narrations include the 2003 film “Seabiscuit” and multiple films by Ken Burns including “The Civil War” (1990).

I think it’s fair to say that McCullough’s words will be with us forever, if not longer.


I still feel bad about the pirate ship

J, L, and I went out to the farm with Mr. H every Saturday. Mostly, we goofed off, though we did help put in a lot of fresh barbed wire fencing and did other chores as needed. J, L. and I were probably in junior high school, and the farm and its cattle and its deep woods with the branch (creek) filled with water moccasins and copperheads was about as far as Shangri La was from those boring classrooms as we could get in those days when there wasn’t time to spend the weekend sailing in Apalachee Bay.

J and I often carried .22 rifles when we were hiking down by the branch because, in addition to the copperheads, there were dangerous beer cans down in those woods that could kill a guy in a New York minute. We lived down by the branch, J and I, because we both had bedrooms filled with fresh and saltwater aquariums that constantly needed new residents.

L, who was several years younger than us on the day in question had gotten a plastic pirate ship for Christmas and apparently had allowed it to set sail upstream from where J and I were catching crayfish. Out of nowhere comes this ship, orange and brown and riding fine in the swift-flowing water.

Something just snapped because J and I filled it full of lead from our trusty .22 rifles and it sank to the bottom of the branch next to a stump where a copperhead was swatching the action. To this day, I don’t know why we did it. Bored, perhaps. Target practice, maybe. A good laugh, to be sure.

At the end of the day, L asked if anyone had seen his pirate ship. Nobody had. J and I volunteered to help look for it the following weekend. L was so grateful we both felt like shit. Even now, I still feel bad about that toy ship. Only the copperhead knows where it is today.


Sunday’s Mixed Stuff

  • I like everything John Hart has written except this debut novel. It has everything in it but the kitchen sink and the main character is an unsympathetic sad sack. I’m glad he got this approach out of his system before he started writing novels where the nasty stuff is within limits and the protagonists are the kind of people readers can get behind.
  • We’ve had a lot of rain in North Georgia lately including a nasty thunderstorm after midnight two days ago that killed the power and scared the cats into piling into our bed.
  • I liked The Seekers a lot for their pure, sweet voices. So I felt sad seeing this news: “Judith Durham, singer of the Australian pop band The Seekers, has died at age 79. According to Universal Music Australia, Durham’s cause of death was chronic lung disease.” Wikipedia notes that the group had Top 10 hits in the 1960s with “I’ll Never Find Another You”, “A World of Our Own”, “Morningtown Ride”, “Someday, One Day” (written by Paul Simon), “Georgy Girl” (the title song of the film of the same name) and “The Carnival Is Over” by Tom Springfield, the last being an adaptation of the Russian folk song “Stenka Razin”.
  • As a writer and a reader, I wonder why so many authors speak of train whistles in their novels when whistles on trains have been gone for years. Other than tourist steam engines, American diesel-electric locomotives all have horns.
  • This book of short stories has been more interesting than I expected. I bought it for the English translation of Hayashi Fumiko’s (1903-1951″ autobiographical story “The Accordion and the Fish Town” which I mention in my novel in progress. But, I’ve found more to like in this selection of works that show how the Japanese short story has developed over time. The book was released in 1997. While the novel has been king in the West, the Japanese focused on shorter works.
  • Two days ago, Lesa was trying to catch up on the yard mowing, ploughing through grass that was almost too high for the mower due to daily rain showers. She stopped mowing at dusk when she ran over a hidden yellow jacket nest and got stung twice. Ouch. We seem to have more of our share of yellow jackets and wasps in this neighborhood, and that includes white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
  • Long-time friend Keith Willis has released the latest novel (#4) in his Knights of Kilbourne Series, Stolen Knight. If you love snappy writing, hijinks, and dragons, this fantasy/romance should be on your nightstand.  Or, as Willis says on his website when he introduces the series, “If you like swashbuckling adventure served up with a helping of romance and a dollop of humor (and topped with a dragon) then these books are for you.”


Beholding the Wonder of the World

“Move from seeing to beholding: To see a situation is to catch the facts of the matter. To behold it is to witness the story. If you dwell entirely with statistics and data, you will be a burnt match within months. Move from just seeing the world to beholding the world. Seeing is assessment and analysis; beholding is wonder and curiosity.” – by Martin Shaw in Emergence Magazine

We have to see, of course, though from my author’s perspective seeing is a small part of observing and being a true part of the world. If this idea interests you, I invite you to click on the link above and read Shaw’s perceptive essay “Navigating the Mysteries.”

When we create ourselves and the world we inhabit, it’s as Shaw says, we build with wonder and curiosity once we’ve learned to “behold.”

This is how an author creates a good story to tell. And, it’s what discerning readers want to find in a great novel. Why not create our lives and view the world as a great novel as well?

Years ago, “Rosicrucian Digest Magazine” had a one-page feature called “Worlds of Wonder.” My short essays about the natural world appeared in that section three times. I chose the out-of-doors for my essays because that’s where I see the greatest mysteries. They are there ready for us to behold rather than to catalogue into graphs and spreadsheets that arise out of simply seeing what’s before our physical eyes and our scientific instruments.

Those who base their approach to life on seeing and nothing else will be like the millipede that froze in place when asked which of his feet he moved first.  If you behold the world and your place in it, that kind of question is laughable–or perhaps sad.

Shaw suggests that rather than listening to the uncertainty of most of the voices around us, we open up ourselves to the mystery. “The correct response to uncertainty,” he says, “is mythmaking. It always was. Not punditry, allegory, or mandate, but mythmaking. The creation of stories. We are tuned to do so, right down to our bones.” The mythic painting in the drawing is, for those who behold, more informative than a photograph.

His essay is the best account I’ve seen lately about how writers work and how we as people should work. All other approaches are an illusion and create more uncertainty.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy novel set in Glacier National Park is based in part on a very old myth where he wound the truth of the story he needed to tell. Pictured here is the audio edition.

New ‘Freedom to Learn’ op-ed series to appear in Washington Post’s ‘Made in History’ Section


Amid an unparalleled wave of attacks on academic freedom and public education nationwide – including the introduction of nearly 200 educational gag orders and the adoption of gag order policies in 19 states – PEN America, in partnership with the Washington Post’s Made by History section, is launching a new Freedom to Learn op-ed series.

Made by History is an independent editorial section of the Post featuring content from academic historians on current events. Edited and published by the Made by History editorial team and sponsored by PEN America, the Freedom to Learn series will provide historical context for the current assault on public education in the United States and elsewhere.

The Freedom to Learn series will consist of ten articles to be published in the summer and fall of 2022, beginning on August 15. The series will culminate with a public virtual event, sponsored by Lumina Foundation, featuring several contributors to the series.

“We’re excited to partner with the Washington Post’s Made by History to support high-quality, well-researched analysis by professional historians on the unprecedented threats to our education system,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America. “Over the past five years, the Made By History team has developed a consistent track record of excellence in publishing insightful historical analysis of current trends. PEN America is thrilled to support their work and to help educate readers about the extraordinary challenges teachers are confronting today.”

“Made By History is dedicated to publishing rigorous historical analysis of U.S. current events and public debates to help the public understand the current events,” said Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, a historian of education and an editor at Made By History. “Recent attacks on the classroom curriculum have historical roots, and we are excited to work with PEN America to bring rigorous scholarship by professional historians to shed light on the origins, implications, and consequences of the hyper-politicization of education.”

I support this action and hope it helps end attacks on learning my misguided citizens and groups. Perhaps the series should become a permanent part of the newspaper.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy e-book is free on Amazon between 8/4 and 8/8.

If the U.S. were overrun, how many of us would join a resistance movement?–

When I read books about the resistance movements in Europe during World War II, I am impressed by the bravery of those who sheltered Jews, led downed allied pilots to safety, and fought in a guerilla warfare style against the Nazi occupation.

I hope that if the U.S. were conquered by an invading army that chose to occupy the country while expanding its reach toward Canada and Mexico, that Americans would be just as brave and just as persistent. Those who are the strongest supporters of the Second Amendment and lax gun control laws often say that one reason citizens should be armed is the possibility of an invasion.

While armed civilians probably could not stop a non-nuclear conventional attack, it’s probable that they could make things very uncomfortable for an occupying force. While I don’t agree with the laws that permit mass ownership of guns, especially those designed for combat troops, I think the suggestion that armed civilians could fight against an occupying force is bogus when it comes to the country’s failure to clamp down on gun crimes. And yet, I still wonder if our proposed bravery would equal that of, say, the French resistance.

I have my doubts. Even so, I don’t want to be around to see these doubts tested under real conditions. Many in the resistance were willing to carry out missions that–even if they succeeded–might mean the loss of everyone in the resistance cell.

I wonder about this because I sense that a fair number of people are unwilling to give up anything–time, money, benefits–in order to support issues that are clearly in the national interest. That is, what would an individual give up to help end racism, mass shootings, climate change, etc? Since progress on these issues is slim to nonexistent, I can only conclude that the answer to such questions is “not much.” I fear the same might be true if a neighbor asked for help in blowing up a bridge used by an occupying army.

Do you ever speculate about such things when you read a nonfiction book or a novel about World War II resistance movements? Perhaps I speculate because, as a writer, I’m used to asking “what if?” about all kinds of things.


Celebrating Leo

Leo (♌︎) (Greek: Λέων, Leōn), Latin for Lion, is the fifth sign of the zodiac. It corresponds to the constellation Leo and comes after Cancer and before Virgo. The traditional Western zodiac associates Leo with the period between July 23 and August 22, and the sign spans the 120th to 150th degree of celestial longitude.

Leo is associated with fire, accompanied by Aries and Sagittarius, and its modality is fixed. Under the tropical zodiac, the Sun transits this area on average between July 23 and August 22 each year, and under the sidereal zodiac, the Sun currently transits this area from approximately August 16 to September 16. The constellation Leo is associated with the mythological Nemean lion. The lion is a very important and prominent symbol in Greek mythology. Its opposite sign is Aquarius. – Wikipedia

As a Leo, I am required by law to remind everyone during my month that saying bad things about a Leo is a criminal offense.

As King of the Jungle, Leos are practically perfect in every way (like Mary Poppins) but less smarmy.

If you’ve heard the legend of the “nine old men” who actually run the universe, I’m here to say that it’s all true and that every man (or woman) in the group is a Leo. Please don’t mix us up with Disney’s Nine Old Men. In short, the real nine old men and women run the whole shebang and couldn’t possibly be one of the lesser sun signs. (I’m not old enough to be one of them, so don’t blame me if stuff does wrong.)

We’re usually described like this: “Roll out the red carpet because Leo has arrived. Passionate, loyal, and infamously dramatic, Leo is represented by the lion and these spirited fire signs are the kings and queens of the celestial jungle. They’re delighted to embrace their royal status: Vivacious, theatrical, and fiery, Leos love to bask in the spotlight and celebrate… well, themselves.” – Allure

The trouble with descriptions like this one is they make us sound like we’re so vain we think every song is about us. We’re not vain, we’re honest. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Or at least admit it.

I hope you enjoy your dog days of August.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Special Investigative Reporter.” Purchase it during Leo’s month and the nine old men and women will give you a LIKE next to your name in the Akashic records.