Skip to content

Potpourri – June 2019

Notice: If this post contained any real potpourri, you’d be sneezing by now.  Come to think of it, I don’t know why well-meaning people thrust potpourri on innocent people who walk into a bathroom, living room, bookstore, Wicca supply shop, or auto supply store and then start sneezing their asses off.

Moving to Juneau?

If so, there’s work. I’d take this job in a New York minute (whatever that is) if I lived there:

The Sun Singer

If you’re one of the wonderful people who downloaded a free Kindle copy of The Sun Singer during the recent giveaway, thank you! If you like it, you may also like its gritty sequel Sarabande:

 

The Strand Bookstore

Since I have worked in historic preservation, I’m a fan of the National Register because it draws attention to a historic site or object and imposes no restrictions on the owner’s use of the property. Not so, the government overreach in forcing landmark status on New York City’s famous Strand Bookstore. The bookstore fought against the designation because it comes with rules that impact how the slim-profit-margin store can use the building it owns. I signed the petition against this kind of nonsense.

Medical Update

I posted this medical update on Facebook and since I’m too lazy to write a fresh medical update, I’ll just paste it into the blog:

Darn it, rain

I was planning to mow the yard after supper until I noticed that it’s getting a bit dark outside (at 2 p.m.). The weather RADAR indicates that I might not be cutting grass even though we just got one of our riding mowers back from the shop and it’s ready to go.

 

Fried chicken for dinner tonight, but there’s not enough for you, so don’t stop by unless you stop at the KFC on hightay 27 before you get here.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too much logic might kill your best work

“The intellect is a great danger to creativity . . . because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth—who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter—you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.” – Ray Bradbury

If there’s a place for logic, perhaps it’s in your research. Facts matter, even in fiction, so it’s a bad sign getting those wrong, worse yet finding out from other people that you got them wrong. A long-time journalism professor and author of textbooks, my father often said that one of the worst things a journalist could do was misspell a person’s name. For one thing, it made him or her look sloppy. For another, it called into question everything else in the new story. If your research is flawed, small inaccuracies may kill your best work.

Otherwise–logic, as Bradbury suggests–gets in the way of our stories and even ourselves. Logic often leads to doubt, even self-doubt, and the frame of mind that arises out of that can easily become a barrier to the story you wish to tell. If you don’t think you can write it, you won’t. If you think you’re not the person to tell the story, you won’t be able to tell it. Our stories lead us down strange roads where it’s best to just keep going rather than thinking, “Holy crap, I’m lost.”

In some cases, being lost is a good thing because how you find your way out makes a good story, or at least provides the confidence you need to continue. Goodness knows, there’s not a lot of validation for aspiring writings and emerging authors, so allowing yourself the time and excitement of being lost from time to time is much better than fighting being lost. And besides, it’s easy to become prey for the doubters in your life who think you’ll never write anything, much less anything that gets published and sells a few copies, maybe a lot of copies.

Plus, it seems that when we use logic to try and puzzle our stories out of one misstep or another or one troublesome scene or another, we’re not likely to tell a story that’s true within itself and resonates with readers. I know one writing expert who says the stories we write are already “out there” in some kind of limbo area waiting for us to find them and tell them. I’m not sure I want to go that far. I do see, though, that stories appear to have an innate intelligence that wants to go in a particular direction for one reason or another. So, as we said years ago, the author has to go with the flow rather than thinking up logical rationale for swimming against the story’s current. If you’re swimming against the story’s current, you’re thinking. Stop it!

Down the road, you can do your thinking during the editing process. Then you’ll find inconsistencies, holes in the plot, and possibly other things that don’t add up. Or, maybe you won’t.

This is going to sound strange, but when I find a bunch of prospective characters who are doing one thing or another, I find it best not to judge them or find some logical yardstick that proves they’re messed up. Better to write down what they’re doing and discover the story in it. Just don’t think too much about what you’re doing.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic series, “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena.”

 

 

 

If you read too much, you’ll pay for stuff you’ve already read

One of the problems of reading a lot of throw-away novels in between the high-quality novels you talk about on Facebook and Goodreads is discovering the book you’re reading suddenly looks familiar.

This seems to be a problem with thrillers (where there’s a lot of violence) and romances (where there’s a lot of sex) where everything is the same until you come to a pivotal scene where the author opted for a blast of creativity and did something unique with the action.

It’s a bit disconcerting to be 100 pages into a book when suddenly you realize, “Crikey, I’ve read this book already.” Not only did I not recognize the title, but for 99 pages everything seemed new. I guess that means that either nothing memorable happened or that I skimmed through a lot of words.

Women’s fiction seems to be a problem in this regard because novels are often re-issued with new titles and new author pseudonyms, so there’s no way to know the book you just bought is already in a box in the attic or garage.

At least Amazon tells you that you already bought the book, but this doesn’t help if you buy some books from Powell’s, B&N, Indies Unlimted, and at bricks and mortar stores. Apparently, the quantity of words obscures the fact that a reader has seen all this before. As an author, I wonder how another author can write so many pages in so many books that I don’t recognize the plot and characters before I get to the weird scene where the deja vu occurs.

I wonder how often this happens. I hope it happens often because otherwise, it’s just me.

Malcolm

Humor keeps us sane (sort of) during bad times, especially in fiction

Wikipedia Photo

“It hadn’t occurred to me until I read them that antiwar novels could be funny as well as serious. “Catch-22” is crazy funny, slapstick funny. It sees war as insane and the desire to escape combat as the only sane position. Its tone of voice is deadpan farce. “Slaughterhouse-Five” is different. There is much comedy in it, as there was in everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote, but it does not see war as farcical. It sees war as a tragedy so great that perhaps only the mask of comedy allows one to look it in the eye. Vonnegut is a sad-faced comedian. If Heller was Charlie Chaplin, then Vonnegut was Buster Keaton. His predominant tone of voice is melancholy, the tone of voice of a man who has been present for a great horror and lived to tell the tale. The two books do, however, have this in common: they are both portraits of a world that has lost its mind, in which children are sent out to do men’s work and die.” – Salman Rushdie in What Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” Tells Us Now

Wikipedia Photo

I’ve been a fan, not only of Salman Rushdie, but of both Heller and Vonnegut, so I agree about the “funny” when it’s part of an otherwise grim work. Those of us who watched M*A*S*H as a movie or a TV series know the sharp knife humor can have in an otherwise serious work. One reader review of one of my Florida Folk Magic novels said that since I was writing about a grim subject, she saw no place for the humor I included. Needless to say, I didn’t respond, though I didn’t agree. Humor, I believe, not only helps keep us seen during insane times, but it introduces within a novel a strong and necessary counterpoint to the primary flow of horror and dread.

Perhaps, like the booze and jokes at a wake, humor–while it may contain a dash of denial–helps us cope with the worst of life. Perhaps it shows us that in the worst of times, we are still human. Or, perhaps it’s such a wild card that it shocks some sense and sensibility back into us when our lives and/or our world seem to have hit rock bottom. Heaven doesn’t need humor as much as hell needs humor.

Humor, it seems, can also show us the senseless reality of horrible things in a way that melodramatic prose cannot. In a way, satire and humor bring out the idiocy of events and views in a clearer way than a straight recitation of facts.  Long ago, I learned that as a psychic/empath, I could most easily “read” a person by saying something humorous or otherwise unexpected during a conversation. Suddenly, as they try to figure out the comment, they become open and transparent. Yes, I know this isn’t a nice thing to do, but I never promised you I was a choir boy. Likewise, the unexpected humor (or farcical statement) can blast open a reader’s mind to the real truths in a grim novel.  S/he sees, then, what s/he might otherwise miss.

Of all the novels I’ve read about war, I was probably more devastated by Johnny Got His Gun and All Quiet On The Western Front than any other fiction. Yet, they do no remain in my memory with the same power as Slaughter House Five and Catch 22. Why? Because they were a one-note samba of horror, unrelenting, and without a moment’s rest.

While the characters in war are likely to tell the worst possible jokes about their situation, the author isn’t there to poke fun at them but of the idiocy of their situation. So, authors risk the truth whenever they have an urge to turn the novel into an ongoing joke. The humor, like the devil, is in the details, the unexplainable moments, the orders from a bureaucracy far away, and the system itself.

Make the readers laugh. They may not thank you for it, but they will be stronger for it, long term.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Poetry to the People BookMobile Tour

Tomorrow is the beginning of our 1,800- mile journey with House of SpeakEasy where we are traveling to 10 cities during the next 10 days to bring books and poetry to readers. We will be delivering books to undeserved communities and partners along the way on workshops, story exchanges, readings and more. The tour will depart from Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York tomorrow, Thursday, June 13. We hope to see you there!

Source: Poetry to the People: A BookMobile Tour – Narrative 4

A bookmobile in an Internet age? Yes, and why not. This story just makes me smile and feel good about the good people in the world.

Malcolm

How much politics do you want in the novels you read?

Poets, fiction writers, essayists, and other artists have long been at the forefront of protests against unfair regimes, laws, and negative cultural practices. They still are being censored, imprisoned, and killed. So, I find it hard to protest against the increased amount of political discussion on writers’ sites these days. I suppose if a reader stays within a specific genre or group of authors and mostly reads their material, this increase in politics might be less noticeable. I see it because I’m always searching for writing news sites for information for my author’s page on Facebook.

On that page, I provide four-to-five links a day about recent book news. But my sources are becoming more and more political and making that harder for me to do without politizing the page. That is, I’m finding less information about new releases and author interviews and writing tips, and more information about authors’ views about present-day politics. If I link to such articles very often, I’ve become a political site rather than a books and authors site.

I applaud writers who speak out even if I don’t agree with them. But speaking out is good! Let’s face it, my Florida Folk Magic Series of three novels speaks out against the KKK and the Jim Crow laws of the 1950s.

Let’s face it, politics in the United States at the present moment is–for want of a better analysis–a fractured, polarized mess. It’s natural for writers to speak out about it. Even so, many readers turn to fiction and poetry for entertainment, the discovery of new ideas, and to experience their love of words. I really think some, perhaps many, of those readers do not want the worst of the daily news embedded in every novel and poem they read.

I tend to avoid political books that focus on the current moment because I don’t want to pay $25.00 for a book that contains the same stuff I see on the daily news and that will be out of date in a few years. Even my favorite writers have to wait for the Kindle or mass market paperback versions of their novels to come out before I buy them. As a writer, I think that “too much” current politics dates a novel and makes it unlikely to be read five years from now. So, I’m not going to write a novel about a bunch of people who want to impeach Trump or who want to keep him from being impeached. Stephen King might be able to carry it off, but it’s beyond me, and once Trump is gone, who’s going to read the book?

What about you. Do you look for novels that explore or exploit the current political debates of the day? Or, do you read what you usually read and hope it doesn’t sound like either CNN or FOX news?

Malcolm

 

because people shouldn’t have to journey alone

Cancer Navigators is a northwest Georgia organization that provides a variety of support, direct help, and other resources to patients with cancer. Their tagline is “because people shouldn’t have to journey alone.” In addition to the American Cancer Society, CancerCare, and groups designated for specific kinds of cancers, perhaps your area has a state or regional organization that provides help. Our local group provides a weekly support group where people can share, learn, and get ideas.

In addition to support groups and retreats, there’s counselling, information about community resources, financial issues (including lack of insurance), and transportation problems. Many types of cancer include long periods of treatment, extended hospital time, and treatment costs that only a rich person could pay for. My prostate cancer is generally assumed to be usually survivable, but the daily radiation treatments over several months cost about $25,000 not including the hormone treatments. Fortunately, Medicare takes care of 80% of that.

There’s a strong likelihood, I’ll be cancer free by Thanksgiving. Many families and individuals see costs astronomically higher than that, often with little or no hope that the patient will ever be cancer free. Most of us have heard that certain things increase our likelihood of getting cancer. So, we have an option not to do those things. Things get muddled when the most dutiful people get cancer anyway and the most careless people do not.

I have a feeling a lot of people think that God, or perhaps fate in the form of a big wheel of fortune, determine who will be included in the next round of the National Cancer Center statistics that say, “The Burden of Cancer in the United States. In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease.”

In spite of the advances in medical technology, I suspect many people (perhaps most) are fatalistic about improvements coming from research. Too many people are dying and the treatments cost more money than the living have. Perhaps such feelings keep most people from donating money to research and support groups unless a close friend or family member is affected.

Personally, I’m not overly worried about the prognosis for my treatment. I’m more aggravated about the hassle after having one easy ride (except for the last three years) most of my life with little to no interactions with doctors and hospitals. Yes, the words, “you have cancer” tend to get one’s attention. S/he wants to ask, “How long do I have?” or “How much pain is involved?” or “What percentage of the rest of my life will be spent in a hospital bed?”

Such things cross my mind, of course. How could they not? I like the phrase “because people shouldn’t have to journey alone” because I think a lot of people do face cancer alone. Friends don’t stop by because they’re superstitious like they might get cancer by saying the word or being in the same room with a person who has cancer. Treatment and the effects of the treatment curtail many activities, so some of a person’s natural interaction with others comes to a halt. When my parents and then my wife’s parents were old and ill (not with cancer), people said they’d stop by and check on them, but mostly they didn’t.

I guess those people feel like there’s nothing they can really say or do that will change the circumstances of a terminal patient. Plus, what they see tends to scare them into thinking “what if I’m next?” Better to run and hide, right?

I play with magic, write books about magic, and am generally a very superstitious person. But the whole idea of God or fate deciding who gets cancer (or anything else) makes no sense to me whatsoever. I believe in destiny, though not a destiny decreed by the gods, but a destiny we (perhaps) chose before we were born and that we control (consciously and subconsciously) that speaks to what we want to accomplish in this lifetime. That said, I suspect this entire prostate cancer hassle is something that I chose one way or another and that I’m supposed to learn or otherwise get something out of it. But that view is just my view. It doesn’t change the care people need or the help others can provide personally or via support groups.

The main thing, I think, is finding a way to “be there” for others who might need your help. They won’t tell you they need it because, well, who wants to say such things? As for me, please don’t stop by the house with a casserole, especially one of those with beans and onion rings and mushroom soup.  Look to the people next door and at the company where you work and the PTA where your kids go to school. They’re not lepers and they won’t infect you if you stop by to say “hello.”

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those memories you have of national tragedies

My parents and grandparents never forgot where they were when they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. People often use the phrase “we will never forget” when referring to such tragedies. One reason they remember is due to a so-called flashbulb memory, a term coined by Roger Brown and James Kulik in 1977 to describe the human tendency to remember quite vividly where they were, who they were with, and the details of what they heard when a horrible national or personal event occurred.

I only have two vivid flashbulb memories of national events: where I was when President Kennedy was shot and where I was when the 9/11 attacks occurred. I also have such memories about some family tragedies (outside my own household) occurred.

Why do they happen? There’s a lot of research and speculation. According to Brown and Kulik, “The principal two determinants appear to be a high level of surprise, a high level of consequentiality, or perhaps emotional arousal (assessed by both rating scales and ethnic group membership). If these two variables do not attain sufficiently high levels, no flashbulb memory occurs.”

Researchers have also studied the accuracy of such memories. It appears that while people have a high degree of confidence in such memories, the details fade over time so that–according to one study–ten years after the fact such memories may only be 60% correct. Studies often include memory reports sent out to those in the study group that are compared with earlier reports from each respondent. I have no idea whether much two vivid flashbulb memories are less accurate now than they were years ago. In many ways, those memories are curiosities now rather than vital to my life.

I tend to remember other events when I see pictures or read articles about them. Only then do I remember anything to speak of. No doubt, I would remember more about a terrorist attack or a school shooting if it happened in my town or involved friends and acquaintances. When I was younger, I envied people with so-called photographic memories. If they really have such memories, that would be a blessing and a curse. David Baldacci’s Memory Man series of thrillers about detective Amos Decker shows both sides of the equation: if a horrible emotional thing happens, you’re never rid of it and it’s just as strong today as it was when it happened; on the other hand, if you’re a detective or a reporter or a college student, it might serve you well.

With a true photographic memory–or a large mental database of flashbulb memories–I think it would be hard to remain sane. I, for one, don’t want to re-experience the worst moments of my life over and over with the same grief, sorrow, and anger as I did on the day they happened.

In spite of all the nastiness in the world, I hope that many of us have flashbulb memories (even if we don’t know a flashbulb is) of the better days of your lives. The day we met the man or woman who became our spouse, the day we got married, the days our children were born, the day we passed the bar exam or got our realtor’s licence or first drivers license.

As my wife will testify to, my general memory isn’t that good. Frankly, I don’t know how she remembers so much stuff. I would like to remember more than I do. But I don’t, so I don’t have as many flashbulb memories as a lot of my friends do. That’s okay, I can always Google things to see when they happened. Someday–a day I’m not looking forward to–security cameras and facial recognition software and other spyware will be able to tell me what I was doing when everything that happened happened.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer” is free on Kindle through June 12.

 

 

 

The stuff outside the car window on a road trip is actually real

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. 

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” 
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Interstate highways accentuate the problem. They take you past the real territory whether it’s small towns with local character or countryside made up of differing ecosystems that all blend together outside the car window with the same unreality as the background in cheaply made theater/tv cartoons. Even the exits look alike, featuring the same chain gas stations, fast food restaurants, and hotels as the exits one saw five hundred miles ago.

Wikipedia photo.

I remember my first trip through the peninsula part of Florida. Looking back, the homespun roadside attractions all seem rather tacky and low grade when compared to the destinations everyone’s racing to see in and around Orlando or Tampa or Miami. All that homespun was real and very different from town to town when compared with today’s tourist destinations. Even now, I prefer the numbered U.S./State/County roads where one can experience the local cultures and local environments. I’d rather eat at Mom’s Diner than another Applebee’s or another Cracker Barrel.

Chain restaurants offer a bit of security, I guess. When you walk into an Applebee’s or a Cracker Barrel, you already know what you’re getting. With Mom’s Diner, you don’t. When a see chain restaurants, I think of the old Pete Seeger song “Little Boxes,” a slam against suburbia, and I think, yes, all these buildings are made of ticky tacky and look just the same.

When you race through Florida on I-4, I-10, I-75, and I-95, you’re really out of alignment with the territory and can no longer say (obviously) that the journey is more important than the destination. Using the contents page of one of my favorite books about Florida’s wetlands, when you travel an Interstate you don’t see, much less differentiate, between seepage wetlands, interior marshes, interior swamps, coastal intertidal zones, and mangrove swamps. Likewise, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and savannahs fly past your car window (like TV) at a mile a minute.

Wikipedia Photo.

I see that Disney World and other theme parks are raising prices again. So, there goes a hell of a lot of money, long lines, crowds of people bumping into each other, submerged within Orlando’s ticky-tacky sprawl, and then home again via Delta Airlines or the Interstate. Missing from this experience is, of course, the real Florida. You missed the whole thing except for the so-called Magic Kingdom that features everything but real magic.

I’ll admit that when my daughter was little, we took her to see Seaworld and Disney World. And we recently went back again with her family so that my granddaughters could see the best of the best at Universal and Disney. Yes, we had fun. Probably, the kids had even more fun. I hope the kids will grow up and discover the real Florida someday, that is to say, a beach other than Daytona with its crowds and condos and hotels, the real magic of grasses, wildflowers and trees in one of the state’s diverse environments.

One Interstate is pretty much like another, but the stuff outside the car window isn’t the same from state to state. It’s too bad the good stuff gets passed by. It’s even worse when you realize most people don’t think anything’s outside the car window.

Malcolm

Campbell’s contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer” is free this weekend of Kindle.

 

 

 

E-book Giveaway – ‘The Sun Singer’

My contemporary fantasy The Sun Singer will be free on Kindle June 8 through June 12, 2019.

From the Publisher:

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

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

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

Recent Review:

The novel is set in Glacier Park Montana at the hotel where I worked – Wikipedia Photo

“As a young boy Robert Adams started having prophetic dreams. Traumatized after seeing the death of a young neighbor girl in a dream and the next morning actually witnessing her death he vowed to suppress this curse. With medication and willpower he succeeded for a few years although it left him feeling empty. On his fifteenth birthday Robert decided to bring back his dreams, with control and without the “Seer’s Prayer.” With the help of his Grandfather Elliott, a dreamspinner, he is making progress.

Grandfather Elliot grew up around Glacier National Park and has convinced Elliot’s parents, Katheryn and Laurence, to take a “three-week family vacation there this coming summer. Robert is looking forward to backpacking, hiking, and exploring the area since he and Alice, his younger sister, have heard many of grandpa’s adventure stories growing up. As well as folk tales, myths, and legends of other people lost in the mists of time. Grandpa Elliot has an ulterior motive on this family vacation though. Three years ago up high in the mountains things went terribly wrong. Elliot is going to need Roberts help setting things right again. The problem is grandpa is getting weak and forgetful, so he enlists the help from a longtime friend and mountain climbing buddy, to meet them at the lodge during their vacation.

“Mr. Campbell used his astute and unfettered imagination to weave this labyrinthine tale full of many different elements seamlessly. The landscape descriptions are dynamic and beautifully written. The matter of where Robert goes and the full blown characters that he meets along the way are all realistically believable. Well, except for perhaps Garth, the wood elf. But he was pure magic and I enjoyed his character immensely. Robert finds himself on his own, learning to navigate this coinciding world, which is exactly like our own, a few hundred years earlier in time. To do that he has to learn to trust his dreams and to listen to his intuition on who to trust. This is a wildly spirited and intelligent adventure story where Robert has to learn to believe in the energies around him for them to flow through him. I enjoyed the messages of extended families and the way things came together at the end. All ages of readers who enjoy mystical adventures, alternate universes, or epic tales will love this story.” – Big Al’s Books and Pals

I hope you enjoy the story.

–Malcolm