Don’t Let Politics Ruin Your Novel

I’m reading a novel by a well-known author that is supposedly his best yet, but 1/3 of the way through I’m finding it really slow in spite on an inventive plot. So, I went over to Amazon to see what the readers were saying and they were saying that it was pretty good. What I noticed, though, was the large number of negative reviews that criticized the author for injecting his political ideas into the novel when they had nothing to do with the story line.

When I write novels set in the 1950s, I often mention the politics and products of the time because, in addition to ambiance, they show what the characters are dealing with. I wouldn’t do this with a novel set in current times unless it was a political thriller. Doing so will alienate readers from other political parties for no reason. I see this a lot in current TV shows where, inasmuch as Hollywood in generally liberal, I believe the writers and actors are playing to their colleages rather than making a better story by saying something nasty about, let’s say, Donald Trump.

I no longer watch the Academy Awards because they are filled with snarky, “we know better” political comments. They apply only if a movie is a political movie. Otherwise, they’re a bunch of rich actors and actresses giving us their unsolicted political opions as though that’s what we tuned in to hear.

Doing this not only spoils the Oscars, but contaminates TV series and many of today’s novels. It’s the author or the producer grabbing a bully pulpet where none exists. If I’m reading a police procedural novel, I don’t want the characters loading up their comments with policial BS favoring any party.  I see authors doing this in their work and imagine that they think–as they write–“look how savvy I am.”

No, you’re making cheap jokes and juvenile banter at the expense of your work. Readers want a great story and your politics is stealing that story away from them.


We used to play this game

Where we’d form a line and the person at the beginning would be told about an event, and then would whisper the details to the next person, and so on down the line until the last person repeated the story The only rule was, you had to try to get it right. Nonetheless, the person at the end of the line almost always got it wrong.

When I wrote yesterday’s blog about the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution being based on a fabricated story, I wan’t thinking of this game. I was thinking of something that began as a lie. That’s one thing. But when a story goes wrong after it goes through dozens of reports and sources, that’s quite another.

We keep paraphrasing the paraphrases we hear until the end result is fake news even though that wasn’t the intention. Granted, their are networks and reporters who put their own particular spin on stories so that in the end it’s hard to tell how much is opinion and how much is fact.

We all have our bully pulpets, I guess. Even major media outlets are scattering he comments of people on twitter througout their stories as though those knee-jerk opinions can really make a story more truthful and unbiased. These unfounded opinions can only muddy the waters when those cited have no dog in the hunt.

The purpose of the original game as to show how rumors distort the truth. That’s not the purpose of journalism, though too many reporters and networks think their spin is more important than the facts. Reporting is often a bridge over troubled waters–or perhaps muddy waters.

As always, checking multiple news venues is likely to help us find the truth.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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This novel is a satire about the news business.

This week in fabricated history


“On August 4, 22 illusory torpedoes were launched by North Vietnamese patrol boats against the U. S. destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin. Born a world away from the lotus falling into a sea of fire, the sweet fictions of credibility gap sustained them long enough for the prescribed protocols to ensure the hardship of 58,175 deaths, the price of 153,303 wounded, and the burden of a national psyche forever scarred.” The Seeker, Malcolm R. Campbell, 2013

Stemming from this was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave the President the authority to use “all necessary measures to repel an armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

Until the last one of us who served in Vietnam is dead, the war will continue to be a blemish, not because we lost it, but because we were there at all–based on a provocation that never happened.



Don’t forget YouTube when researching a book

When YouTube first showed up in 2005, I thought all it was good for was as a place to watch old band concerts, book promotion trailers, and old TV shows. Over time, my wife (who likes to repair stuff) found that almost anything you want to fix–from a complex shower faucet to a riding mower carburettor–has a how-to video on YouTube. My granddaugher, who’s into crafts, showed me that almost anything she wanted to make had step-by-step YouTube instructions. Heck, YouTube is now hooked up to our TV so we can watch old episodes of our favorite old shows.

I’m the last person in the family to embrace YouTube.

Case in point. When I realized I needed more info about the harness used in a packtrain, my print-oriented brain first led me to articles and then a couple of books about saddles, harnesses, knots, and panniers (for cargo). These articles/books had great drawings and were put together by people who still lead packtrains into roadless areas.

One thing that just wasn’t making sense to me was tailing a packtrain, that is, connecting each horse in the train via a rope to that tail of the horse in front of it. I couldn’t believe that in 2021 there would be a YouTube video showing how to do this. Now it makes sense. No, it doesn’t hurt because the rope leads rather than pulls the following horse.

Seeing multiple videos about packtrain harness has made it much easier to write the book even though I know the pros will realize I’m a tenderfoot with a recipe. I don’t know why people make these videos. Maybe they’re showing off their knowledge or maybe they honestly have skills that are fun to pass along. Whoever they are, I’m glad they show and tell the rest of us how to do what we need to know how to do.

So, guess what? If you need to know how to do something for a novel, there just might be a how-to video.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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History that helps keep small towns vibrant and alive

When people move to a small town or unincorpoated commnity, they often ask if there’s any historical information available. Usual sources often include the local opr regional historical sociey, microfilm copies of old newspapers stored at the library, local histories that we often compiled by a local club or church and printed for residents in a small numbe of copies. Some clubs, often women’s clubs, would make their histories ongoing projects which they tried to update from time to time.

I think this is good work because as older residents die off, a lot of local knowledge is lost as well as some of the source materials our parents and grandparents might have used to prepare their local history book or pamphlet.

The Montana Historical Society newsletter’s latest issue mentions two researchers who’ve received fellowships to delve into local and regional history. This support might also be available from the your state’s historical society.  One of them, Janice Farkell, already maintais a website about her unincorporated community of Brady Montana with a population of 140 residents according to the WikiPedia entry.

From Farkell’s site

Farkell is a retired school teacher and a 5th generation resident Brady. She said, “Recently, I have continued  to research and collect Brady history to share with my community through the new website Brady Montana History.” She said that the site provides a place where people can share their stories, memories, and photographs for future generations. I like the site, my only caution being whether or not a library or other oganization will step up an maintain it when she retires.

The Internet is a wonderful place for dissemnating and sharing this kind of information that, even in an electronic age can so easily be lost. Kudos to Farkell and others who are trying to preserve the old facts and the old stories.


The yearly kumquat argument

Kumquat.jpegSince I grew up in Florida, I know that kumquats are harvested between October and February. Yet every year, my Georgia grocery stores have (a) never heard of kumquats, (b) don’t really know when the season is so they make something up, and (c) had one grower a year or two ago who shifted over to something else and so just wrote off ordering them from somebody else.

And apparently, my name is on some list of expat Floridians who hound grocery story produce departments every year. Can I buy a white grapefruit instead on the overly sweet pink? No. Can I find a satsuma anywhere? Er, we don’t know what that is, check at Home Depot.

And then there are kumquats, as far as I know, the only citrust fruit with edible peeling. They’re only an inch or two in size, so peeling them would be tedious. They have a wonderful tart/sweet taste. They make great marmalade.

So here’s what I want you to do starting inn October. Ask the produce manager of your favourite grocery store if the kumquats are in yet. If not–or if s/he doesn’t know what theyt are–ask when they will be in. Maybe this pressure will force more grocers to ask for them and more growers to keep growing them.

And just maybe, the produce manager you ask will have them and you’ll feel obliged to buy a sack. This could be a turning point in your life–discovering just how wonderful kumquats are.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Set in Florida where it’s relatively easy to find kumquats.

OMG, they’re shutting down Marlboro Country

“I want to allow this company to leave smoking behind,” Philip Morris CEO Jacek Olczak said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. “I think in the U.K., 10 years from now maximum, you can completely solve the problem of smoking.”Domy Towarowe Centrum.jpg

Dang, I grew up with the Marlboro Man and the concept of Marlboro Country, the wide-open spaces where we were free to smoke cancer sticks whenever we wanted while riding our trusted quarter horses across the endless high range in search of lost calves and lost dreams.

Now I’m lost. I haven’t smoked a Marlboro since the 1990s, but as long as they were out there, I could always saddle up and light one up. We became addicted because you, Philip Moris, gave us what was once an acceptable way to do so. But now–or soon–I won’t be able to go back to those days even if I need to.

My addiction probably goes back to the navy when the CPO said, “Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em” or when the announcement came over the ship’s IMC (public address system), “The smoking lamp is lit.” Gosh, was it possible to be sent to the brig if you didn’t have a cigarette dangling out of your mouth? Perhaps not, but if you weren’t smoking, suffice it to say, you weren’t part of the team. So much for advancement!

I might have strayed from Marlboro Country from time to time.  I smoked Roxy in the Netherlands and Gauloises in France. But it wasn’t the same. Neither were Players and Senior Service in Britain. They tasted bad and didn’t have a country available where you could ride off into the sunset with cancer. At least Raleigh cigarettes gave out coupons you could save up for an iron lung.

So, we say goodbye, sadly, to Marlboro Country. Maybe not today. But soon. We’ll probably be better off once it’s gone because addiction never goes away. I hope this is one problem our grandchildren never have to face. They’ll have to find their own addictions, books maybe, or Philip Moris biscuits with a dash of marijuana.

Gosh, clean air. I never thought I’d see the day.





I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened up the window and in flew Enza.

Most of us weren’t around during the influenza epidemic of 1918 when the nursery rhyme in the header of this post was well known, though I hestitate to call it popular. We also weren’t here when the stock market crashed in 1929 or when the dustbowl ravaged the southern plains of the 1930s. The people of my generation often said our parents and others of their generation acted a certain way or had an indentifiable world view because they suffered through one of these upheavals.

Fphar-11-00937-g001.jpgIn the future, people will look back on the western wildfires and, perhaps, speak of them in the way we refer to the dustbowl now. And perhaps analysts of the future will find parallels between our current pandamic and the dark times of 1918. People are already writing books and essays about their experiences that may form the foundation for how people in 75-100 years believe we’ve handled these crises.

In the middle of this dandemic, what I see is confusion, most often described as science vs. personal opinion. The arguments fill the days’ news. In some ways, the arguments boil down to an us-v-them clash, on hand that nobody should be able to force us to get vaccinated or take other precautions, and on the other hand, those who won’t get vaccinated are threatening the lives of everyone else.

As often happens, the Democrats are arguing with the Republicans about every thing from vaccines to masks to lockdowns to re-opening businesses and schools and travel. Why, I wonder, must politics even rear its ugly head in these discussions? The parties should be working together rather that fomenting a fragmentation of views and policies.

In the future, I suspect people will marvel at how quickly vaccines were developed and how people who grew up in a “vaccinated society” came to shun them. When we look back at the pandemic of 1918, we cannot really fault people for what science didn’t yet know. I think, though, that we will be faulted for what we do know and what we said it was our right to ignore.

So far, it looks like those whom the future will award the highest marks are the swamped first responders and the hospital workers. Next, perhaps, those who created vaccines in record time. Last will be the politicians and those who believe their personal “rights” supercede the needs of the nation and their neighborhood.

All of this frustrates me. How about you?


Great books are like high-octane fuel

The Night Watchman: A NovelI began reading Louise Erdrich’s novels with Love Medicine in 1984, thought about what might have been when her 2009 novel The Plague of Doves was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and thought “about time” when The Night Watchman won the Pulitzer this year. I’m reading it now, a little over halfway through, and I have to say that like all of her books, it’s a parched drinking of high-octane fuel to my system.

I think a lot of writers, and readers as well, react to wonderful writing and important themes this way. Just what happens is difficult to describe. It’s more than inspiratiion, though it is that. What it is is transcendent, a reader recognizing heretofore unknown needs within himself/herself that are met by the book. Or, like a high-performance automobile that’s finally given high-performance fuel. Now body and soul are running on all cylinders.

I remember then in 1953 the subject of terminating Native Amerian Nations of the governmental support that had been mandated to them by treaty. (Andrew Jackson’s nasty spirit was still at work.) Among other things, it was a land steal, not the emancipation the governemtn claimed.  What exactly was at risk? In part, this:

“The sun was low in the sky, casting slant regal light. As they plodded along, the golden radiance intensified until it seemed to emanate from every feature of the land. Trees, brush, snow, hills. She couldn’t stop looking. The road led past frozen sloughs that bristled with scorched reeds. Clutches of red willow burned. The fans and whips of branches glowed, alive. Winter clouds formed patterns against the fierce gray sky. Scales, looped ropes, the bones of fish. The world was tender with significance.”

If you know your history, you know how the battle against termination ends. If you don’t and if you plan to read this book, I won’t tell you here, for that would be a spoiler. Yet, nothing really can spoil this book except (momentarily) blurbs that just don’t work, like this one from the  Boston Globe: “Thrills with luminous empathy.” What the hell does that even mean?

Okay, I think I’ve gotten past reading that blurb now and can absorb the wisdom of this novel. As the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “No one can break your heart and fill it with light quite like Louise Erdrich.” In this story, she’s not only writing about her Chippewa people, but her family. And that comes through the words, I think, and makes then dear and sad with no sentimentality, but raw power.



Rare steak? I’m sending it back

Perfectly cooked? Ha! It hasn’t been cooked.

When I was a kid, everyday people ordered steaks medium to medium well. Now, that’s considered gauche, according to the food network. Just ask the bosses on Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped. When they check the steak and find it to be nearly raw, they say, “Perfectly cooked.”

In a pig’s eye.

I could tell Chef Ramsay that the USDA says the safe cooking temperature for streak is 145˚. Basically, that computes to medium. Apparently the food network chefs have been brainwashed–but to what end?

I think it’s a “beautiful people” thing. Just look at how the people are dressed who come to a Hell’s Kitchen dinner. Runway ready, I would say. I haven’t seen people dressed like that since the last time I watched the Oscars. And that’s been a while. But they look less attractive with blood dripping from their mouths, pooling on their plates, and spattering across the tablecloths like a crime scene. That’s one hell of a fashion statement.

I feel like I should print out this chart wheneve I go to a steak house:

I doubt it would help. My simple rule of thumb is that if the color of the steak matches the color of my red wine, the steak is undercooked. I’ve had multiple arguments with servers about the doneness of my steaks, but then I didn’t have the chart with me. Usually, couple of thugs with meat cleavers come out of the kitchen and say, “Something wrong with your food, you uncultured oaf.”

“It’s fine,” I say, before putting a hex on the thugs.

Then the chef comes out in full splendour and says he has his standards but the customer is always right. Then, and only then, does my steak come back perfectly cooked. (They probably popped it into a microwave.)

Frankly, it’s easier to order something other than beef and avoid the arguments.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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My characters don’t eat raw meat.