Writing Advice from Isabel Allende

“So how do writers make sense of it all? Observe. Take notes. Question your own assumptions. Recognize the struggles of people around you, acknowledge your struggles, and be generous to both. In Allende’s words, “If we listen to another person’s story, if we tell our own story … we realize that the similarities that bring us together are many more than the differences that separate us.”

Source: Isabel Allende’s National Book Awards Speech: Writing Advice – The Atlantic

Isabel Allende has become the first Spanish-language writer to receive an honorary National Book Award medal. In her acceptance speech, which you’ll find covered in “The Atlantic” at the link above, she talks about how being constantly uprooted has not only impacted the themes in much of her fiction but her approach to writing itself.

“As a stranger … I observe and listen carefully. I ask questions, and I question everything. For my writing, I don’t need to invent much; I look around and take notes. I’m a collector of experiences,” she said.

That’s how writers–and perhaps almost everyone–make sense of moving to new towns, travel experiences, and the political and cultural upheavals of the times in which they live.  As the author of “The Atlantic” article, Rosa Inocencio Smith puts it, Allende’s speech “functions almost as a step-by-step guide for responding to such existential uncertainties. Surrounded by people with infinitely varied lives, writers, she advised, need not feel the pressure of making up stories from scratch. Confronted with problems in their plots or psyches, they can use their skills of observation to gain understanding.”

I like the advice, the article, and the speech itself (which you’ll find linked to the article).


Fast-Paced Books are the Pacifist’s Drano

Okay, the Drano comment isn’t totally fair. Many fast-paced books are well written, have inventive and cohesive plots, know how to keep readers guessing, and when all is said and done, sell to millions of readers. There’s a lot of art and craft to them in addition to marketing savvy.

I might have told this story here before. If so, bear with me. When the TV program “24” was running, a friend of mine and I realized that while we both have non-violent and anti-break-the-rules philosophies about police work and spy work, we puzzled out why we watched that series without fail. We decided that it was because the show brought us closure. That is to say, things got done, the bad guys went to jail, and the good guys (i.e., most of the population) weren’t made to sit in limbo waiting for government red tape and partisan politics to finally fix a problem.

I’m sure many of the viewers of shows like NCIS believe in the right to privacy, yet tolerate the show’s agents illegally hacking into private records because, at the end of the hour, the bad guys are dead or behind bars. I can understand why so many in the police and spy biz say the rules are tying their hands and why we keep hearing that our trusted agencies are doing things they shouldn’t do. Those things get results even though they go against everything this nation stands for.

In “real life,” I can’t support the black ops, off-the-grid actions of private agencies such as those in novels like Typhoon Fury. Half the stuff that happens is illegal as hell–and that’s the good guys. In the imaginary world of the novel, the bad guys get shut down. In the real world we live in, they probably don’t. Or if they do, they cause a lot more collateral damage before they’re stopped. Nonetheless, seeing the bad guys shut down in a novel provides a small measure of relief to all the frustrations that arise in the real world–and in my belief system.

So, I read these novels as a coping mechanism. As a writer, I also find it interesting to see how these novelists handle plots and characters and keep readers reading. But the closure is the important thing, even if it’s only in my thoughts and not in the world I see on the news. Perhaps these books are my heroin. Or maybe they’re the Drano that flushes out my anger at both the criminals and the government for (a) creating problems that harm us all, and (b) for creating regulations that compromise our privacy and other rights in exchange for more security.

Some people turn to booze, some to sex, some to violent sports, some to drugs, some to music, and others to staying late at the office when they really don’t need to ignore their families and stay late at the office. We all have our ways of coping with the realities around us that are over the top. I can’t say that these methods, or reading James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are the best possible solutions.

But until we find and implement the best possible solutions, these escapes keep many of us out of mental institutions. I can’t say I’m proud of that, but I do feel better after flushing a lot of my frustrations about the way the world works out of my system with a slam-bang novel. And when my frustrations are flushed out, I’m less tempted to go over to the dark side.




FREE: ‘Mountain Song’ by Malcolm R. Campbell

This Kindle e-book, regularly priced at $7.99, will be free on Amazon November 15-17, 2018.

As I hear it, summer romances are usually bittersweet. Mine was. They begin with a surprise, evolve into passion, turn sad and desperate at summer’s end, and then in spite of promises and best intentions, they often fade away. Perhaps the two lovers in Mountain Song will beat the odds.


David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

The settings in this book are real. The mountains are those of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. The swamp is the notorious Tate’s Hell Swamp along the gulf coast in the Florida Panhandle.


Reading seems to become hereditary in practice

My parents’ parents read to them. My parents read to me. I read to my daughter. She reads to my granddaughters. I’m pleased to see the tradition continue. It’s almost as though it becomes part of our family’s DNA and the process is continued generation after generation.

When my brothers and I cleaned out our parents’ house after they died, among the memories we found were boxes and boxes of our childhood books. Our parents’ generation inscribed books they gave as gifts, so the dates told us when the books first came into our consciousness. At one point, I thought my granddaughters might like them.

It’s a bit disappointing to discover that the books I enjoyed when I was a kid no longer hold much appeal now. Today’s children’s books are linked to the children’s shows they watch on TV or at the movies. These grab their attention, whereas something I liked 3/4 of a century ago elicits a yawn.

But that’s okay. On the way back from a day trip to Lake Tahoe, my oldest granddaughter was goofing around with stories about imaginary beings, some she made up on the spot, others that might have been prompted from some of the books her parents read to her. We joked about portals between our car and the car with the rest of the family in it as though such portals were a part of our everyday reality.

I doubt that she remembers that conversation any more than I would remember a similar conversation with either of my parents from (give or take) the time of my 5th birthday. But the conversation told me her parents had been reading to her and that she had developed a wonderful imagination. I’m so proud of her for figuring out at her young age that there’s more to see that she can see with her physical eyes.

As a writer, I suppose I have a stake in the tradition of kids being read to by their parents and then discovering the joy of reading as they grow older. But it’s not because I hope they’ll buy my books. It’s because I have felt the power of my imagination in my life and can’t imagine living in the world without it. Reading is a powerful catalyst to thinking outside the box and outside the brainwashing of the political forces of one’s time.

Those with a powerful imagination may not have an easy time of it because they can see what others cannot see. They may grow up and find themselves out of step with the fads of the time. I know I did. But I wouldn’t trade understanding for conformity in spite of the temptations.

When my parents read to me, I doubt they thought the reading would have an impact on my life. They did it because it was fun and because I enjoyed the stories. The same is true when I read to my daughter. These days, we know there are studies that show that kids who are read to by their parents have a better shot at life. Maybe some parents know about those studies and read to their kids as a duty. I can’t say that I approve of that. Reading is such a wonderful way of sharing a story with one’s children, that there’s no other reason to do it. They like the stories. So do we.

Everything else in icing on the cake.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series of three magical novels now available as an e-book in mutlipe formats.


Rainy days and/or Mondays

Very heavy rain all day today, starting our week off with a flash flood watch. This “lake” in the pasture below the house is normally a narrow creek. Now it’s probably up over the road. I already got wet doing grocery shopping this morning, so I’m not going to walk down there and see what the road looks like.


Thank you to the 800+ entrants in my GoodReads giveaway for the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series. I wish I could afford to send all of you a copy. Alas, only one copy is available and it will go out in tomorrow morning’s mail to the winner who lives in Kansas.

Cancer Scare #2

Those of you who’ve read this blog for a while, know that I had successful surgery for kidney cancer several years ago. The cancer was caught by a fluke, an ultrasound taken when I went into the hospital or an appendectomy. It was caught early enough for the surgery to work. The scary thing about kidney cancer is that there are no symptoms until it’s too late to do anything about it. My surgeron told me that the inflamed appendix was the bellyache that saved my life.

Several weeks ago, one of the seemingly endless tests I keep having suggested that I might have cancer again–or, an inflammation. I was optimistic–with random periods of worry and depression–because this cancer has early symptoms. Fortunately, the antibiotic is working and the test numbers are looking better. I’m one of these people who doesn’t get along with antibiotics, but they beat the alternative.

Upcoming Ghost Story Collection

In finished another story for my upcoming collection of ghost stories–coming soon from Thomas-Jacob Publishing. This one takes place in an old opera house that was about twenty miles away from where I grew up in the Florida Panhandle. I drove by it many times and, since it was closed down, always thought it was an abandoned factory. The people in the state’s ghost hunter business claimed the old theater was haunted.

Fortunately, it was saved from the wrecking ball by a string of preservation grants and is now being used to stage regional theater productions. What a perfect place for a story on a dark and stormy night. The story helped distract me from Cancer Scare #2. My wife’s going to proofread the story before I send the collection off to the publisher. There are one or two books in the queue ahead of this one, so I have no idea when it will be released. (I’ll let you know.)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter and her family, including my two granddaughters next week. We’re all doing a little sightseeing as well. The last time we went to their house, we were all snowed in and did well to walk as far as the sledding hill. We’re going earlier in the winter months this time!




Tent Cities for Kids Remind Me of WWII Internment Camps for the Japanese

“The workers at the Tornillo camp, which was expanded in September to a capacity of 3,800, say that the longer a child remains in custody, the more likely he or she is to become traumatized or enter a state of depression. There are strict rules at such facilities: ‘Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita [younger sibling]. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case.’ Can we imagine our own children being forced to go without hugging or being hugged, or even touching or sharing with their little brothers or sisters?” – Concentration Camps for Kids: An Open Letter in NYR Daily

According to the NYR Daily article, physical conditions at Tornillo aren’t too bad. But then, too, the United States’ World War II internment camps for weren’t as bad as our Civil War era POW camps. When most people today look back the internment of 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese in ten camps without probable cause, we ask “How could such a thing happen in this country?”

Tornillo camp – Wikipedia Photo

At present, the U. S. has detained 12,800 immigrant children and teens. On the plus side, we’re about a hundred thousand detainees short of the numbers of Japanese tossed into camps between 1942 and 1945 because Of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

So, can we look at today’s numbers and say we’re doing better, that we’ve learned from past mistakes, and that we’ve become more humane and fair three-quarters of a century later because our detained children numbers are much lower? We can, I suppose, but if we do it would be rather like a killer bragging that he didn’t murder as many people this week as he did last week and should be judged a better man for it.

I do not believe in so-called open borders, much less sanctuary cities and proposals that undocumented aliens should be allowed to vote, to have drivers licenses, jobs, and unlimited health care. That’s unfair to immigrants who are going through normal channels to get green cards and possibly work toward legal citizenship. That’s also unfair to those who must pay for those undocumented aliens.

But internment camps aren’t the answer. Border operations and immigration regulations are flawed as are laws that apply to those who cross illegally between ports of entry. The process of granting asylum is difficult and lengthy. Is it also flawed? Perhaps so. It will probably take a bipartisan congress with positive public support to get rid of those flaws. Meanwhile, putting kids in camps is even more flawed.

By watching the news, we hear the arguments and solutions from the two primary political parties. But they’re deadlocked and have been deadlocked about immigration issues for a long time. This is also a flawed situation, made worse because we’re hearing more from the ultra-left and the ultra-right than from the moderates in both parties. When there is nothing but extreme views on the table, the problem looks harder to solve than it should be. So, we ponder it and squabble about it while those children remain in the tent cities.





How to tell if you’re an empath

“Being an Empath or having sensitivity to people, places, animals can be a good thing and a bad thing if you do not know how to control this ability.    Sometimes it leads to people having too many animals, having a relationship with a bully or abusive person because you “feel” you can change them, you can’t say ‘no’ because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.   Places and things bother you while to others they think you’re just nuts—-well, you’re not.   You are an Empath.”

Source: SPIRITUAL INFORMATION: how to tell if you’re an empath

This post is two years old, but it continues to apply today as more and more people develop their psychic skills and find that they are becoming more sensitive to the emotions of other people. It can be good, but it’s not easy to control. This is an interesting discussion of the subject.


Amazon Kindle cover.

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of three “conjure and crime” novels that have been collected into one volume.

Thank you

I appreciate the 486 people who have entered the GoodReads giveaway for a paperback copy of Lena. The giveaway runs through November 10th. I enter these kinds of giveaways, too, and have won a free book several times. So, winning is possible.

If you win, I hope you enjoy the book. Lena is the third and final novel in my Florida Folk Magic trilogy.


Meanwhile, my publisher and I are putting together a collection of ghost stories to be called Widely Scattered Ghosts. I’ve been writing another story for the collection, this one set in an old theater. The story is based on a real theater in Florida that those in the ghost hunter business claim is haunted. The main character is named Emily. She appeared in my collection called Emily’s Stories, now out of print except in translation and audiobook editions.

Boxed Set

Amazon Kindle cover.

If you haven’t read any of the Lena and Eulalie stories, you might consider buying the three novels in a boxed set. This is cheaper than buying Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena separately. The edition is available in Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.

I’m hopeful we will find a narrator for a Lena audiobook. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the collection of all three novels in this recently released e-book.

As for those who have been asking, there isn’t going to be the fourth book in this trilogy. There might be a related story, but I think the Lena and Eulalie stories have reached a natural conclusion. Authors always have to figure out when they’ve written all they need to write with one group of characters or another. What we don’t want to do is write a story too far; that is to say, writing past the stories we intended to tell.








Review: ‘Border Pieces’ by Pam Robertson

Border Pieces: A Morgan Winfeld NovellaBorder Pieces: A Morgan Winfeld Novella by Pam Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This exceptionally well-written book is several books in one. It’s a covert ops book and it’s a heroine’s journey book. Some readers will be disappointed when the covert ops plot and page-turning action in the first section of the book don’t continue into the next section. However, readers who appreciate characters with depth and multiple dimensions will keep reading even though (initially) the sudden change of pace is somewhat disconcerting.

I won’t include spoilers here. Suffice it to say, being a spy exposes one to injuries and other losses. Morgan and her partner Jake need time to heal and find themselves. Morgan learns that it’s one thing to heal from physical injuries and a very different matter to get her mind right and connect to skills she does not, as yet, understand or fully use in support of the missions. Understanding this is her journey, a journey made more difficult by the loss of a colleague during an otherwise successful mission.

Here readers will see a very talented, almost natural covert operative who lives and breathes the work she does, yet considers leaving the service because tragedies and other losses cannot be undone. It would be easy for her to retire and write a book about her exploits. Morgan’s grappling with her underdeveloped intuition and how to apply it in a business that’s more and more technology-based is an important part of the book’s theme. If she can figure all that out, she’ll probably become even more successful as a covert operative.

If I were an editor, I would ask for somewhat smoother transitions between the sections, especially one that shifts from an in-progress, real-time operation to a time many months later then we learn how that mission ended. I think it would have been stronger if it had been shown in real-time. However, that is my somewhat subjective feeling.

I liked the major focus of the plot on Morgan Windfeld’s personal and professional development, including her doubts and fears. This is a strong novel that appears to be the first in a series we can all look forward to following.


View all my reviews

Is world peace possible?

Most people don’t think so.

Yet today, many people are blogging for peace. Are these bloggers naïve or stupid?

I can’t say. The pen, some say, is mightier than the sword. But, as I see it, the pen is a lot slower. If somebody points an AR-15 at me in a shooter incident and I write the words “Don’t shoot” on a piece of paper, what’s the likely result?

Perhaps those words will be found after I’m dead and perhaps they’ll turn into a viral message of sorts that will cause many people to ask themselves whether hatred is getting them anywhere and whether they really want this country to be engaged continuously in shooter incidents, or in multiple police actions around the globe with names nobody knows that are all listed as “on-going” online synopses of armed conflicts.

The average person on the street cannot get past the spider’s web of rationale for every so-called conflict or peace action, much less the words “national security” which are stamped on every bomb we drop and every missile we fire. Perhaps blogging for peace does not mean–as some protesters thought during the Vietnam War–that we should advocate singing Kumbuyah with the “bad guys” in hopes that there will be a miraculous cessation of hostilities.

Maybe blogging for peace means demanding and electing Senators, Representatives, and Presidents who are in office to carry out the aims of the people rather than carrying out their own aims. That means transparency. That means not stamping the words “national security” on everything those in power want to do and then using that designation as a rationale for invading a country or spying on our own citizens.

Maybe blogging for peace means electing a Congress composed of people who support term limits so that we don’t have an entrenched group of people who supposedly represent us but who in reality play political games. Maybe it means increasing the term of Representatives to four years so that they’re not spending our money 24/7 for their next election rather than representing us.

Maybe blogging for peace means getting the people’s power back to that those whom we elect are accountable to us rather than asking us to support their ideas and policy suggestions (that change over time).  No, direct democracy probably isn’t possible, but I do think our Senators and Representatives should do what their constituency tells them to do, not what they want to do for good or ill.

If we as a people want peace, we have to believe it’s possible. We need people in Washington, D.C. who understand that they work for us along with new legislation compels them to do so for limited terms in office. Some say we need the Second Amendment to fight against our own government if necessary. Interesting idea, but I doubt that the guns in our cabinets are much of a deterrent against an airstrike or a tank in the neighborhood. We do, however, need a stronger ammendment that limits what the federal government can do without the population’s approval. What we have now, doesn’t cut it.

I do think the Federal government is more the problem rather than the solution because we gave it the power and now we can’t control it. I can say I want peace, but then my representative votes against peace for his or her own reasons. S/he should be fired because–as we keep hearing–s/he works for me. Having a vote is not enough. It’s too slow to stop the damage.

Some said the Vietnam War changed Americans as a people. They may be right. But it didn’t change our government who just can’t stop getting involved in similar battles around the world that are wasting lives and dollars and having nothing to do with our safety as a nation. As a pacifist, I think both political parties have run amok.

If enough of us demand an accounting, perhaps one day we will get an accounting and from that, a responsive and responsible government. One thing we know for sure: if we don’t believe peace is possible, we will never have it.