Monticello Florida Opera House

This beautifully restored opera house, once home to Vaudeville, was built in 1890. The work on the building has been a labor of love–one that’s ongoing. Since I’ve been involved in historic preservation, I highly approve of those who have the vision and stamina to restore old buildings and keep them vibrant and in use in today’s world. A big plus for me is the Monticello Opera House’s support of local and regional theater.

If I still lived in North Florida, I would be an active member of this group, involved in fundraising and publicity, and grant writing.  They still need to focus a bit more on ephemera, old playbills, and lists of performers to help put the building’s significance into perspective. Such work would probably require a humanities grant and a devoted intern or two for Florida State University.

The opera house is on the National Register under the name “Perkins Opera House.” The paperwork, filed in 1971, is disappointing because, unlike more recent applications, it doesn’t include “statements of significance” which would have listed historical and architectural information. 

Here’s their current offering, one with a great poster:

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell, who writes magical realism novels set in the Florida Panhandle, has  also worked as a grant writer for nonprofit organizations, including a successful National Register application.

‘scenic science of the national parks,’ by Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller

This beautifully illustrated, well-written guide presents a capsule of information about each U. S. National park in an easy-to-use format that will make this a take-into-the-field companion. There’s even a place for each park’s “passport” stamp.

For each park, you’ll find a superlative statement, crowd-pleaser hikes, primary mammals and plants, a so-called “iconic experience,” and a “worth noting” fact. This book uses illustrations rather than coffee-table-book photographs. These are immensely helpful in making quick identifications of what you’ll see in the park.

When I first picked up this book, I looked up the parks I know well and found the information to be accurate and spot-on in terms of each park’s ambiance and character.

From the Publisher

Explore the fascinating science behind the national parks in this charming illustrated guide.

The national parks are some of the most beloved, visited, and biodiverse places on Earth. They’re also scientific playgrounds where you can learn about plants, animals, and our planet’s coolest geological features firsthand. Scenic Science of the National Parks curates and breaks down the compelling and offbeat natural science highlights of each park, from volcanic activity, glaciers, and coral reefs to ancient redwood groves, herds of bison, giant bats, and beyond. Featuring full-color illustrations, information on the history and notable features of each park, and insider tips on how to get the most out of your visit, this delightful book is the perfect addition to any park lover’s collection.

From the Opening Pages

We know this looks like a book, but our collection of pages is actually more like a secret decoder ring or a pair of X-ray glasses because it will help you see some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States in a whole new way. Whether you’re traveling through the national parks by car, bicycle, boat, or foot, or even in your imagination, this is an opportunity to unlock the scientific stories behind the scenery.

This guidebook will teach you to spot the extraterrestrial-like organisms lurking in Yellowstone, the spiky teddy bear clones in Joshua Tree, the slick snails of Acadia—and more! Contained here are true stories about plants, rocks, animals, bodies of water, and the night sky that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else than in these parks. We’ve steered away from people-centric history and from big, obvious questions (like, How did the Grand Canyon form?) in favor of more fascinating, offbeat questions (like, How are strange ocean animals that look like plants connected to the rocks that make up the Grand Canyon?). This is an invitation to be inquisitive and pay attention to the small details that bring the big picture into view.

We had a blast writing this book and hope our work sets you off on a question-asking frenzy of your own. Go forth and get curious!

This is the best general national parks guidebook I’ve seen in a long time. Better yet, it was an early Father’s Day gift from my daughter.

–Malcolm

P.S. I had her permission to open the package early!

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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What happened to Dorothy Kilgallen?

Crime and courts reporter, columnist, and 15-year “What’s My Line” panelist Dorothy Kilgallen died on November 8, 1965. I remember when it happened because I watched “What’s My Line” in those days and thought that there was something odd about her death.  I liked her because she was very good at figuring out contestants’ occupations on the show and, in a media world dominated by men, she was one of the best reporters in the business (Hemingway was among those who thought so).

Mark Shaw has written two books about her, The Reporter Who Knew too Much and Denial of Justice in which he clearly believes she was murdered, and lays out as much evidence as he can find to support that theory. While her death was generally presumed to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills combined with alcohol, two of the drugs in her system, and in the residue of one of two glasses on her nightstand, weren’t drugs prescribed for her and that she was never known to take.

There was never a formal police investigation even though the circumstances surrounding her death were odd and should have raised multiple red flags. Shaw wants the case to be re-opened, but that seems unlikely since most of the witnesses are gone and the crime scene in her home is gone. By the time I finished reading Shaw’s books (“Denial” is largely a rehash of The Reporter Show Knew Too Much) all I had was a long list of suspects.

Suspects include: Her husband (they led separate lives), Frank Sinatra (long-time feud), FBI/CIA (to stop her JFK/Ruby/Oswald investigation that might uncover secrets the government didn’t want to be known), organized crime (that might have been complicit in the JFK assassination). Certainly, her husband had the easiest opportunity while those who think, as Kilgallen did) that there was something fishy about JFK’s death and the government’s handling of it, will suspect, possibly, the CIA.

Shaw has done a lot of research (click on his name above for more info), but the books are not really organized well (my opinion), so when one finishes them there’s a great sense of frustration, mainly at how badly the police and the medical examiner handled things in 1965 and partly because Kilgallen’s family hasn’t been as supportive of Shaw’s efforts as one might hope.

The books raise more questions than answers, but certainly provide a lot of information about the probable answers to those questions. We may never know, and it’s quite possible that people are around who want to make sure we never know.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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writing on the edge or, perhaps, over it

In The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy writes of a man in the throws of sex with his wife, shouting “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”

If I read such a thing on Facebook, I’d probably say, “TMI.” But it’s typical Conroy, obvious in most of his books, writing on the edge describing the most strange, outlandish, sick, and horrific moments in the lives of his characters, moments we can’t un-see, would be shocked if we thought of such things, and having stepped over the edge with a writer who is “out there,” we are drawn “out there,” too, and for my money, nothing beats the mind’s confusion of such prose that’s better than torrid sex (“thank you, Jesus”).

I am in awe of anyone who can write on (or over) the edge and remain mostly sane.

Conroy’s inclusion of such moments in his plots is heightened by the fact they do not comprise a farce, but a balanced interaction between the most absurd and the most beautiful, and between the best of sin and the best of grace. Writing also in The Prince of Tides, he says:

“I would say, ‘Breathe deeply,’ and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen, and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater. My soul grazes like a lamb on the beauty of indrawn tides.”

The Prince of Tides is my living Bible of how to write well from well-formed characters to well-formed locations. I keep the book close at hand on my desk next to my copy of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel which–if read carefully– teaches prospective writers how to write on the edge or, perhaps, over it.

Some say Stephen King’s On Writing is better.  Perhaps, but it doesn’t speak to me because I want writing books that show me how to jump off cliffs and walk through fire and say things that cause readers to blush and shout, “TMI.”

There’s a danger to writing at the edge: “it might kill you.” But what if it doesn’t? You look down, read what you have written, and find blood on the page. If you can see your blood holding the words together, then the edge didn’t kill you. Maybe tomorrow, but today the words are wonderful and they sing songs the world needs to hear.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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This is a terrific story, filled with fabulous characters, some definitely nastier than others, and great fun, too, at least in parts. Others are still horrible to contemplate from our slightly more secure seats nearly 70 years on. Reader Review of the audiobook.

Comfort food

Comfort food is food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to someone, and may be characterized by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, or simple preparation. The nostalgia may be specific to an individual, or it may apply to a specific culture. – Wikipedia

The pandemic sent many of us in search of comfort food. Some of it was actual food, a plate of French fries, a banana split. Some of it was food for the mind, a favorite movie or book, or good a conversation. Some of it was food for the spirit, a walk in the woods, swimming in saltwater at a forgotten beach.

The social media were filled with conversations about comfort food, edible and otherwise. People compared notes, despaired over what wasn’t available (restaurants, pubs, movies). Described what worked for them, complimented others who confessed their new guilty pleasures. And generally found ways to be together while they were physically far apart.

As a typical introverted writer, the seclusion didn’t bother me. Send me a bottle of Zinfandel and a good book, and I have all the “comfort food” I need. Our cats provided comfort–whenever they felt like it. And my wife and I had fun ending our evenings with a YouTube episode of the show “What’s My Line?” We saw many of those growing up and though they’re very dated compared with, say, Rob Low’s “Mental Samurai,” they met our definition of comfort food.

Through poetry, essays, and first-person stories, pandemic people often spoke of the power they discovered (or re-discovered) of solitary pursuits. They found they could be alone without being lonely and saw that there was a great power in that. Sitting on a front porch beneath a sparkling night sky. Walking–anywhere–but nowhere in particular. Listening to music after shutting off their cellphones. Meditating one way or another. For some, the beauty of this was a revelation; for others, it was a return to the less-hectic days before they were ensnared by the commuting/9-5 job where the office was often more home than home.

As people become vaccinated and various restrictions are relaxed and the trappings of our pre-COVID lives are available again, I hope we will remember what we discovered about alone time, how freeing and renewing it can be. The pandemic has taught us many lessons. The power of being alone is one of them.

–Malcolm

My comfort food.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Some books go nowhere fast

“I’m currently reading a book published by one of the major companies, and nothing happens. Well, that’s not exactly true. Stuff happens. Then more stuff happens. And even more stuff happens. But I am now three-quarters of the way through the book, and all I’ve gleaned from the story is that a lot of stuff happens.” – Pat Bertram

Years ago, we might have labeled such books as “nowheresville” and said that their authors had it “made in the shade” financially speaking because readers were being lured into their novels with catchy titles that never delivered the goods. For one thing, there probably weren’t any goods. Or, if there were, they (the goods) went bad in the first draft and got worse during the revision process where the introduction of lovely scenery, philosophical debates, backstories about characters with no substantive roles in the story, and sex scenes in flea-infested cat houses failed to turn up a storyline. Reviewers could at least say, “All the smoke and mirrors were pretty.”

As it turns out, somebody dropped a gun in a bunch of finger paint.

Recently I’ve been reading novels with seductive titles like When the Grim Reaper Smiles, The Quantum Murder Syndrome, and Terror Strikes in The Old Familiar Places, and I’ve discovered that when the author doesn’t have a clue about a plot, he fills the books with backstory bios of all the bad guys, apparently to impress us about just what the good guys are up against. What they (the good guys) are up against appears to be the fact that they haven’t done enough significant stuff to merit a Wikipedia page, much less a starring role in When the Grim Reaper Smiles.

Perhaps they say something snarky like “ask not for who the grim reaper smiles, it’s just gas.” Well. I really don’t want to pay $14.95 for a novel where that’s the high point of the story. Using my best Jack Nicholson impression from “A Few Good Men,” I want to say (to the author), “Please tell me you have more to offer your readers than a few lines that are so lame they can’t even walk with crutches.”

In the old days (whenever the hell they were) prospective authors were told to create a list of characters and write down a list of physical attributes and a résumé of their lives prior to the beginning of the novel. Somewhere along the line, authors started sweeping all these notes into the manuscript without adding “the goods.” Sometimes the authors added a lot of statistics about military hardware and what the bad guys might do with it should anything happen in the novel.

Look, I read novels to escape from the sins of the world. When they don’t help me, even during a lost weekend, I feel cheated and want to leave a -5 star review on Amazon. After becoming an addict to one drug or another, I want to sue the author for creating my need to escape the sins of his or her novel. Now, suddenly, I’m going nowhere fast and can’t find a book to save me.

Frankly, I want to read novels that go somewhere and tempt me to come along for the ride.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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One reviewer said that while the book was funny, it was just an excuse for a lot of sex and booze. No kidding!

A rare interview with Malcolm R. Campbell

We found the reclusive Mr. Campbell at a mostly forgotten Bandit’s Biker Bar that fell on hard times when Hell’s Angels switched over to IHOP. Wearing his traditional Levi’s and a navy blue polo shirt, Campbell was halfway through a bottle of Talisker Distiller’s Edition Scotch when we arrived. He consented to talk to us as long was didn’t ask why he left the gigolo business for the low-paying career of a writer.

Newspaper: Do you come here often?

Campbell: It’s my second home.

Newspaper: You’ve done wonders with the place.

Campbell: My designer loves the concept of belligerent neglect.

Newspaper: Now that we’ve gotten the ambiance of our setting out of the way, do you have any secrets you want to tell us?

Campbell: I’m not the same guy who raced cars in the U.K or the guy who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Newspaper: We didn’t think you were. Got anything else, something that will make a scandalous headline?

Campbell: I was an Eagle Scout.

Newspaper: Good Lord, are you serious? You’re such a badass, nobody would suspect you once worked on merit badges and gone on camping trips.

Campbell: You’re the first person I’ve told other than my mother.

Newspaper: So, now that you’ve finished Fate’s Arrows, what are you working on now?

Campbell: A tell-all about how to use time travel for fun and profit.

Newspaper: Aren’t you afraid most people will think it’s another contemporary fantasy being released under the fiction that it’s really nonfiction?

Campbell: Most of the world’s nonfiction never happened. Most novels are true. So in this case, readers who think the book is really fiction are ahead of the game.

Newspaper: What game?

Campbell: The game we’re playing right now where you ask me questions, I tell you lies, and you print them in the feature section of your newspaper as God’s honest truth. 

Newspaper: So, when it comes down to it, this interview is a farce.

Campbell: Pretty much. But it serves a need. The readers think they know more about me than they did before even though they suspect they’re being played for suckers.

Newspaper: One is born every minute.

Campbell: More than that, I think.

Newspaper: Are you this messed up in “real life”?

Campbell: If there were such a thing as “real life,” I would hope so. But there isn’t, so I’m not. Readers who suspect “real life” isn’t real are drawn to my books because they want to know why everything is always in a mess, so the best I can do is offer them a way to escape the illusion of the daily news.

–Stargazer News Service

 

 

Have you stopped beating your wife, senator?

That question is so old and so lame that it’s become a dark humor method of describing bad reporters, usually those who are full of themselves and/or have a nasty agenda.

If you answer “yes” or “no” to that question, you’re screwed. If you aren’t thinking and say, “Who told you I’m beating my wife?” then of course it looks like it’s true and you want to know who ratted you out.

大坂 なおみ

I’ve been thinking about bad reporters and bad questions ever since Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open rather than face another typical barrage of lame post-match questions or continue to be fined for refusing to talk to the press.

Osaka said those questions are often like “kicking people when they’re down.” One news story said that “Rafael Nadal himself criticized a journalist in 2019 for asking him if his form on the court had been affected by getting married.” Huh?

Even long-time stars like Serena Williams have said that these pressers, as they’re called, cause a lot of anxiety. And yet, the tennis establishment forces them on the players purportedly because those Q&A sessions help sell tickets. Perhaps, but I doubt it. After being asked why she wasn’t smiling after beating her sister Venus, Serena said, “To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here.”

A reporter once asked Coco Gauff if she was being compared to the Williams sisters because she’s black. If I were Coco, I’d simply say “no” and wait for the next stupid question.

One problem here comes from reporters, officials, and the public who think they should have been told years ago that Osaka suffers from clinical depression. It’s none of their business. If that had been on the table, she would have been asked every time she had trouble with a match whether it was depression or bad hand/eye co-ordination.

We–those who support sports stars and movie stars and others in the public eye–somehow feel that because of our support, we own them and have a right to know their every thought and their every private moment. The reporters know this, and since they do, they can keep asking “When did you stop beating your wife?” and other inane and/or trick questions.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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This novel is a satire about bad newspapers, bad reporters, and bad city officials.

Sometimes a muse dares an author to write a book

Sarabande bled on the leading edge of the Angel Wing while the moon was dark. The grey-green rock at the summit accepted her flow without complaint. Yesterday, Gem said sky wasn’t a fit place of renewal: dark woods and tents served best for bleeding. “Tccch,” she said without finesse, “why expose yourself on that strange spur of rock at the high end of the valley? You’ll catch a cold sitting on unforgiving stone above that cold glacier.”

Indeed, but it suited her.

from Sarabande, Copyright © 2015 by Malcolm R. Campbell

My muse, who is named Siobhan, is a Huna practitioner from Hawai’i. She’s almost a real person, perhaps more real than I am. She’s appeared in several of my books. So it is that in her opinion when she dares me to write a novel, I more or less have no choice. (Never cross a Kāhuna sorcerer.)

The problem: Sarabande is the novel’s protagonist and the story is told from her point of view. She first appeared in The Sun Singer which was told from protagonist Robert Adams’ point of view. That’s normal: a male writer writing a novel from a man’s perspective. Writing from a woman’s point of view is tricky for a man, especially when that woman is attacked and abused–more than once.

Sarabande lives in the universe next door where The Sun Singer is set. Robert Adams saved her life there. Now that she’s having trouble with a magical ghost, she comes to our world in search of Robert because she believes he’s the only person who can help her. Finding him proves to be more dangerous than she suspected. Ultimately, Robert agrees to return with Sarabande to her alternate universe where they find the challenges are almost beyond his ability to circumvent. 

Finding Sarabande’s soul and her voice were difficult. I read a great number of “women’s journey” books before I was ready to write. Perhaps Siobhan served as a guide because it seemed more often than not that I was writing on instinct. So the best compliment I received after the book was published came from a female reviewer who said that she had to keep reminding herself that the book was written by a man.

This is, perhaps, my favorite novel, though saying so is about like looking at your children and saying “I like that one best.” 

–Malcolm

A Glacier Park Novel – Audiobook Edition

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Writing some books feels like destiny

A note from the sponsor (yep, still me).

I wrote my first novel (The Sun Singer) in 1980, found an agent who liked it, left the agent when she said a few weeks later that I’d have to wait until she finished working on Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear, and then couldn’t find another agent for it and finally self-published it in in 2004. Maybe I shouldn’t have left that agent, but if you know Jean Auel’s work, you know it’s been highly successful, so I’m not sure the agent would have ever finished working on it.  (I taught Auel a lesson: I never read any of her books.)

The story I told in The Sun Singer had been messing with my dreams since I was in elementary school. Then, in 1963 when I worked as a seasonal hotel employee at Glacier National Park, I found the perfect place for my prospective contemporary fantasy.

 

I don’t really believe n destiny, not as an outside force seeking to run my life. But the persistent dreams about this young man named Robert Adams wouldn’t go away until I wrote the book. This endless prompting made me wonder if I was wrong about destiny or perhaps that destiny came from within and became something we were bound and determined to do.

Glacier National Park quickly became my favorite place on the planet. It still is. So my dreams went from being precognitive about all manner of things to a new prescient focus about the mountains, lakes, and trails in the Montana park. I think I wrote the book in self-defense. Knowing things in advance is a bit awkward unless you want to open a fortune teller booth at the circus. I didn’t, mainly because I don’t believe the future is engraved in stone.

Like the novels in my Florida Folk Magic Series, The Sun Singer was also a joy to write, partly because (as a Florida boy) I was so stunned by the beauty of the mountains, partly because the story was fun, and partly because the writing of it was getting all those dream-state glimpses of the future off my back–or, at least, out of sight and out of mind.

After it came out and surprised me by being a book of the year finalist, publishers started asking me about it. But they were slow in deciding what they wanted to do because they specialized in nonfiction. Yes, I finally found a publisher and the book did fine until many of that publisher’s authors began seeing things we didn’t like. So, like the agent many years ago, I left that publisher and the book is now self-published again.

Wikipedia Photo

What a strange road writers often follow. The road began when I saw the famous Sun Singer statue at Allerton Park in central Illinois, became a dream journey, and ended up with the published novel. Now I’m a senior citizen looking back on it all and wondering if on this path the truth is stranger than the fiction.

–Malcolm

Glacier Park Novel

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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