Reading novels about magic seems to stir up magic

I’m reading Alice Hoffman’s novel The Book of Magic, unfortunately, the last in a four-book series that began in 1995. As I read, everything I know from studying magic comes to mind rather like hearing an old song brings to mind where you were and the people you were with when you first heard it.

I have no idea whether thoughts of magic are stirred up in the minds of most readers or just those who’ve studied magic. Maybe this happens with people who study other subjects. If you studied kings and queens in college courses, does reading novels about kings and queens remind you of what you learned in college and/or what you saw when you visited historic locations? Or is it just magic?

In Man in Search of Himself,” physicist Jean E. Charon wrote that works of art communicate via an innate knowledge shared by artist and viewer in a language that “awakens unconscious resonances in each of us.” At a deep level, I think, we recognize connections between what we know, think, and feel and the material we’re seeing on the page of a novel or nonfiction book.

If an author is writing the truth, the reader intuits that truth even in fiction and that awakens many memories. In a 2021 interview in The Writer, Hoffman said, “I don’t purposely pursue magic – it’s just part of the prose that I write. I grew up reading fairy tales and myths. For me, magic has always been a part of literature as a reader and as a writer. Magic doesn’t have so much to do with plot as it does with voice. For instance, you can tell a story in a realistic way, and if you’re Hemingway, it’s great, and it works. For me, magic is about the way the story is told rather than the story itself. It’s not a hocus-pocus influence in the plot. It’s more the tone of the story, the way the story tries to draw you in and create a fictional world. I’d like to add that I think the most important thing for beginning writers is to find their own voice.”

I agree with that. Since I do, Hoffman’s work resonates with me more than a novel that sets out with an overt plot involving magic rather than a story in which magic is one part of the characters’ lives. Those of us who write magical realism see magic as a normal part of life, a life that might otherwise be just as logical and rational as most of the people we meet.

For me, the shared knowledge with an author, as Charon sees it is strong when the subject is magic and less strong–to nonexistent–when the subject is black ops and police procedurals.

Like influences like, people say. They may be right.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” The audiobook, narrated by Wanda J. Dixon, received an Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine.

The question we didn’t ask Salvador Rolando Ramos or anyone else

According to police, Ramos bought his guns legally. That means completing the six-page ATF Form 4473 Firearms Transaction Record. The form appears thorough, though opinions about its scope vary. However, it’s missing the first question that must be asked: What well-regulated Militia do you belong to?

That’s what the Second Amendment requires even though many groups from the National Rifle Association to the U.S. Supreme Court would have you believe otherwise. And so, this form is mute about the first thing it should ask.

Some have said that membership in the state’s national guard should suffice even though historians say that a national guard is a form of militia that the founding fathers didn’t like.  Immaterial, inasmuch as there are many things in today’s laws and court decisions that the founding fathers wouldn’t like: their real or suspected opinions are not part of what constitutes legality other than the Constitution itself which, on this matter, states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That seems clear to me.

But the government, in its misguided view, believes we can ignore one-half of the amendment.  If membership in a legally constituted, government approved and recognized milia, including the national guard, were required to purchase a gun, would the mass shootings stop? Probably not. But I think there would be fewer of them. And that would be the beginning of a real solution.

According to CNN, citing the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 213 mass shootings this year so far. CNN’s tally says that Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, represents the 30th K-12 shooting in 2022 and that it is the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.

We lead the developed countries of the world in these shootings. Perhaps we should consult the wisdom of other countries. Or, correctly interpret and mandate our own Bill of Rights.

–Malcolm

Blackwell School Poised to Become One of the First National Park Sites Dedicated to Modern Latino History

NPCA Press Release, May 19, 2022

The Blackwell National Historic Site will soon shed light on an often-overlooked injustice in American history and will be an important step forward for including Latino stories at our parks.

Mrs. Bentley’s class at Blackwell in 1956. Photo Courtesy of The Blackwell School Alliance    

Today, the U.S. Senate passed The Blackwell School National Historic Site Act, which would designate a half-acre school campus in West Texas as one of the first national park sites dedicated to Latino history. The Senate made minor changes to the bill, so it will now go back to the House of Representatives for a vote, and the last step remaining is for President Biden to sign it into law.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Blackwell School Alliance are leading a grassroots campaign for a park that will honor the stories of Mexican American students and their families during this nationally significant chapter of history.

Led by Representatives Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23) and Filemon Vela (D-TX-34) and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act is a historic bipartisan agreement amid challenging conversations about race across the country.

National Register Listing Photo of School Children

Until the mid-1900s, school systems across the American Southwest segregated Mexican American students from white peers, sending Mexican Americans to separate schools with fewer resources. Nestled in the borderlands town of Marfa, Texas, the Blackwell School is one of the last remaining “Mexican schools,” standing in good condition, where the so-called “separate but equal,” doctrine applied.

Many years after the school closed following integration, a group of Blackwell alumni formed the nonprofit Blackwell School Alliance and saved the property from possible destruction down the line.

NPCA has long been a leader in campaigns to designate national park sites dedicated to diverse history, including the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Stonewall National Monument. At NPCA, we believe we must expand our national parks system to tell the full American story, which includes stories like the Blackwell School’s and beyond.

Statement of Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for The National Parks Conservation Association:

“There are so many chapters of American history that have gone unseen, unheard, and unacknowledged. Despite the difficult history connected to the Blackwell School, today is a day of joy and celebration that these students’ stories will soon be told by our country’s greatest storytellers at the National Park Service. The students of Blackwell deserve no less.

“Despite the enormous impact Latino people have had on our country and continue to have today, their stories are underrepresented in our national parks. The Blackwell National Historic Site will soon shed light on an often-overlooked injustice in American history and will be an important step forward for including Latino stories at our parks.

“The National Parks Conservation Association stands with the students of Blackwell and we are proud of the years of teamwork that have led to today’s unanimous consent Senate passage. We are grateful to Senator John Cornyn, Senator Alex Padilla, Representative Tony Gonzales, and members of Congress across the country for recognizing that the unique history at this little one-room schoolhouse deserves protection in perpetuity.”

Statement of Gretel Enck, President of the Blackwell School Alliance:

We used to think of the Blackwell School, rightly, as an important local and personal story. Yet the more research we did and the more people outside Marfa learned about it, the more we came to understand how much critical American history is represented inside these old adobe walls. We have worked a long time to advocate for this special place, and now we have the opportunity, and the obligation, to share these stories with a wider audience. Alumni deserve to have their stories known, and today that goal is one step closer to achieved.

“An even bigger goal is that the success of the Blackwell School will open the door for other untold American Hispanic and Latino histories to gain attention and resources. The National Park Service— through its Historic Sites, Historic Landmarks Program, and Heritage Areas — provides unparalleled leadership in telling the complicated history of our country. We look forward to final House passage and the President’s signature.”

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About the Blackwell School Alliance: The Blackwell School Alliance and its partners preserve and restore historic resources associated with the Blackwell School; interpret and commemorate the era of segregated Hispanic education; and serve the Marfa, Texas, community culturally, historically, and educationally for the benefit of all Marfa residents and visitors, now and into the future. For more information, visit www.theblackwellschool.org.

Sunday’s mixed bag.

  • This peacock is one of our frequent visitors from the farm across the road. He looks for bugs while we’re mowing the yard or soon after. Often has several peahens with him. The focus is a bit off because he was so close I had to take the photo through the dirty windows on the front door.
  • Since I like going grocery shopping on Mondays, Mother Nature likes scheduling the heaviest rains of the month on Monday. Looks like that’s going to be the case tomorrow. Drat.
  • Our unopened backup jar of Jiff peanut butter is included in the batch being recalled. I’m happy we hadn’t opened it yet. I’m unhappy that the solution is to throw it in the trash.
  • Every time I read about the Korean war, I’m stunned by how badly General MacArthur managed the war from Tokyo. He kept saying that the Chinese troops south of the Yalu rive were simply the remains of a regiment that came across the border into North Korea–nothing to worry about. So he sent army and marine divisions up to the Chosin reservoir where they were outnumbered five to one by a massive number of Chinese who were there in strength just waiting for the Americans to walk into their trap–which they did. They were lucky to get out of there to a port city where naval and merchant ships evacuated them.
  • While waiting for Alice Hoffman’s The Book of Magic to arrive, I pulled my copy of the 1992 Richard Powers’ novel The Goldbug Variations off the shelf thinking I’d re-read some of it. Hmm, perhaps not. I thought it was weird in 1992 and I still do, so I doubt I can stay with it even though I have no trouble staying with Pirsig and Joyce. In its review, the New York Times said, “In his third novel, Richard Powers is up to something very unusual. “The Gold Bug Variations” is a little bit like Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” in that it carries us on a cerebral quest for a philosophical heffalump; it’s a little bit Borgesian in its love of the complex and cryptic; it’s a little bit Joycean in its size and difficulty. It’s a “science” novel, but closer to science fiction in its inventiveness, its hardware vocabulary and software characterization, and in the uncritical pleasure it takes in the purely clever, the nifty.” Maybe I’ll just read cereal boxes for a few days.
  • I’m tempted to buy How the World Really Works, and since Kirkus says it’s “An exceptionally lucid, evenhanded study of the scientific basis of our current and future lives,” that means I might understand it without a little bit Borgesian complexity muddying the waters. My novels are usually magical realism in style, but I never cared for the work of Jorge Luis Borges. (I do like the music of Muddy Waters. I grew up listening to the blues, not that that has anything to do with Vaclav Smil’s book.)
  • The grocery store nearest my house has a decent selection of wine in the low-price (swill) category, plus a few other red wines that I actually like. However, the store is discontinuing Yellowtail shiraz. This is almost as bad as Outback Steakhouse taking Black Opal Cabernet off the menu.  I contacted customer service to suggest that they keep the wine in stock. Yeah no, like that’s going to happen. The wine goes well with steak and typing blog posts.

Malcolm

Myth: you MUST write every day

“What has shifted over the years is that I take a lot more time off from writing. As a younger writer, I was really adhering to the mythology that, in order to be a writer, you have to write every day. As I’ve continued to age and trust that the writing will be there, I’ve moved into a space where I feel like if I don’t write for a couple of months, that’s fine. It doesn’t scare me at all.” – Ada Limón in The Atlantic

If you’re a newspaper reporter, documentation writer, a freelancer on a deadline, or in any other situation where you are working for somebody else, then you might need to write every day. Otherwise, you probably don’t.

Writing professors and other gurus have for years sounded like a broken record on the “write daily” mandate because (supposedly) if you don’t, you’ll lose your talent and skills, be treating writing as an occasional hobby rather than a job or avocation, heading for the gutter, turning to drink, and other horrid outcomes. I think that’s nonsense.

But, if you don’t think it’s nonsense and want to write every day, that’s wonderful as long as it’s working for you. I tend to rebel against absolutes and other “necessary” writing habits. For me, such absolutes are harmful because they clash with the way I view my avocation. If such rules clash with your personality and your art and craft, ignore them.

We are unique individuals, those of us who write, and in many cases, we don’t quite know how we do it. But if “how we do it” seems to work, then why corrupt the process by twisting it to fit with how somebody else does it? 

I think we do our best writing when we maintain our independence from those who keep handing out “writing rules” and dusty myths as though they’re gospel. We’re not working on an assembly line. It goes without saying (almost) that the work you are doing is your story.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series, beginning with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Manifestos are a dime a dozen but the deaths they cause are real–and tragic

The thugs who commit mass shootings often back up their murders with a manifesto that purports to (a) gain converts and (b) show that their actions were justified.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “The attack in Buffalo is the direct result of white nationalist propaganda, specifically the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory, being promoted and now mainstreamed by major public figures. While this false notion that white people are being systematically replaced by Blacks, immigrants, and Jews has deep historical roots, it has gained traction in recent years.  And with that traction has come violence, both physical and political.”

Such theories, ideas, and notions are not only arrogant but abhorrent. Some people argue that the killers in mass shootings are not insane but have been radicalized by white supremacy propaganda of one stripe or another. My view is that “being radicalized” in this way IS an example of insanity, but splitting hairs about definitions won’t fix the problem. Neither will be banning freedom of speech.

I would like to see more forums, books, articles, TED talks, and other initiatives that promote a dialogue about the inflammatory issues that divide us rather than leaving the entire discussion to Facebook and other threads where is no civility or enlightened attempt to explore what is polarizing us and why such things frighten people to the extent that they take others’ lives and are killed in the process.

We need to develop new ways of looking at the world rather than perpetuating fear and distrust that, if not addressed, will turn our country into an armed camp of competing insanities.

Malcolm

Korean War – all but forgotten

If it weren’t for the insane antics of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, we would probably never remember that a war–that’s technically not over–divided up the country. I remember the war because it was in the news when I was a child. Little to nothing was said about the war in my history survey courses other than President Truman firing General MacArthur in April 1951.

Even now, I think most viewers of “M*A*S*H” reruns assume the TV show was set in Vietnam even though the co-authored novel by a M*A*S*H surgeon (under a pseudonym) was based on this wartime experiences in the Korean War.

I research the war from time to time because characters in my novel Fate’s Arrows and in my short story “The Smoky Hollow Blues” (in the recently released Thomas-Jacob anthology The Things We Write) served in Korea. The novel in progress has these same characters, so I find myself wanting to know more about the near-disaster for the U.S. Marines at Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

You can learn about this battle online on more sites than Wikipedia, and they give a decent overview of the battle. Yet I feel it’s through the lens of somebody watching it from outer space. I can’t afford to buy books about the war just to fill in background information about my characters. Fortunately, I have most of Jeff Shaara’s historical novels including The Frozen Hours about Korea. The novel brings me a close-in view of what it was like to be fighting a superior-in-size Chinese force in sub-zero temperatures where weapons malfunctioned and frostbite was a killer.

I bought the book before I knew I would ever use it as a reference. I like Shaara’s work and probably have most of his novels on my shelf. As an author, I go everywhere I can for background information, and sometimes historical fiction works out very well.

Malcolm

Ancestors, I guess we’re stuck with them

My ancestors go back to Scotland’s King Robert Bruce so this long after the problems with England (from a Scot’s point of view) I can’t say anything much about the U.K. other than it would have been much better for all of us if Scotland, Ireland, and Wales had managed to stay independent, and without a doubt, those countries need to break away. My wife, who studied English history in school, is rather astonished that I hate Elizabeth I with an unnatural passion, but I feel she was complicit in a lot of bad things including kidnapping and murdering Mary, Queen of Scots.

I’m not the only ex-pat Scot who’s being influenced by long-ago events. My roommate in college went nuts when he learned he’d been assigned to share a space with a Campbell. He said that hundreds of years ago my clan attacked his clan, killing the innocent and raping all the women. “Would I apologize?” he asked. “No, I said, for we improved your clan immeasurably.” He changed rooms. Good riddance.

But, I digress. I guess my wee dram of Talisker whisky turned into a pint of Talisker. What can I say other than, “Duilich mu dheidhinn sin.”

The ancestors that impact my life on a daily basis are more recent. They were farm people, and that’s fine. Being farm people, they ate their evening meal (called dinner except on Sundays when it was called supper) at 5 p.m. Dinner continued to be served at 5 p.m. (or else) even after the farms were sold off and folks moved into town. This habit was passed down to my parents who ate at 5 p.m. even though doing that was falling out of fashion. My wife tells me that her mother (a farm person) and my mother (a farm person) were also “ruined by home ec because it taught them how to cook the kind of meal a farm family would eat along with where all the flatware and glasses and plates and saltshakers should be positioned on the table.

So now I’m hungry at 5 p.m. (You can imagine what kind of hell this caused when I spent a summer in Europe where nobody ate dinner until long after respectable American farm families had gone to bed.)

Since farm families knew better than to swear in public, I don’t swear in public, and still, I find myself pissed off (oops) when I read uncivil comments on Facebook and elsewhere with profanity that was only appropriate in the navy. My ancestors taught me that if you need to swear in public, you: (a) have a limited vocabulary, (b) are scum, and (c) should go to jail. I still believe that even though profanity is often required at home when conversing with the cats.

Early on, I was taught to respect my elders. Yet, those of us who came of age in the 1960s learned not to trust anyone over 30. Since I suspect that my elders, dead or alive, have had too much influence on my life, I tended to respect them less than I should have–unless they were of Scots descent. Even now, people over 30–including me–should be monitored to make sure that haven’t sobered up and/or fallen behind on their meds.

Why? Well, our ancestors (including our parents) have brainwashed us to do what we do. We have no choice. We want to do better, but we don’t know how. My hope is that you discover this influence in your life before it’s too late.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell wrote “Special Investigative Reporter” even though his ancestors said, “don’t do it.”

Why you can’t go home again

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – Thomas Wolfe in You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home again because the home you knew no longer exists. And even if it did, the you who lived there no longer exists.

I never go to reunions because everyone there is a stranger and so am I.

Home isn’t always a place, the place where you grew up, had a summer romance, first saw the world clearly, or experienced fear and pain that impacted what you have become but not who you were during those moments that call out to you years or decades after the fact.

Home for a writer is often his/her first novel. For me, home has always been The Sun Singer.  The novel has one sequel and I had long thought to write another. But I delayed doing that for various reasons. Last year I decided to commit to the project. But it didn’t work. I’m not who I was when I wrote The Sun Singer, nor is the location in which it was set, nor are a thousand other variables that shaped the book and myself when I wrote it. None of those things exist now except in my imperfect memory.

I like a comment from a favorite poet of mine Ada Limón from a May 16 interview in The Atlantic: “We want to grow as artists, as human beings; we want to have more access to the workings of the world. So every book process changes for me, because every book is a new way of looking at the world, and a new me: I’m different every time, though I’m bringing the older self—note I did not say wiser, but older—to the process.”

Not to change, would be stasis. . .as a person, a spouse, an author. We have fresh eyes always. New influences. Experiences that changed us a little or a lot. If I tried to go home, however, I defined that, I would be a stranger in a strange land. The Sun Singer and its sequel Sarabande are as they are (or were) but the “me” I am today didn’t write them.

Change, as the I Ching tells us, is the only constant in the universe. We are better off flowing with it than fighting against it. Nostalgia draws us toward the past, but that past is an illusion, and trying to go there represents a failure to live in the present moments all of which want to have their say in our lives and our work.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasies “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande.”

‘Books may well be the only true magic’ ― Alice Hoffman

If you read and re-read Alice Hoffman’s novels (possibly with an initial focus on the “practical magic” series that concludes with The Book of Magic from 2021), you might slowly come to believe that books are the only true magic.

Some might suggest the magic is within the author and that in ways nobody can know, s/he transmits that magic to the page. Perhaps, but I doubt it. I believe the magic arises in the act of writing and the author only discovers its truth while reading through the manuscript.

One of my favorite Hoffman quotes comes from Practical Magic when Aunt Francis says, “My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.”

If one is normal, then s/he doesn’t consider magic at all, and should magic come up in a conversation, s/he will attack it as a scam. I’ve believed this since high school which, no doubt, accounts for the fact that my teachers considered me a troublemaker. I’m not sure “normal” shows a lack of courage so much as a lack of imagination and/or a simultaneous lack of the kind of curiosity it takes to “test the waters” when new ideas come to mind.

Perhaps the basis for a healthy aversion to consensus normality is an open mind. Having a closed mind seems to begin in high school where the goal of many students was “fitting in.” That was the way one became popular or even acknowledged.  In The Rules of Magic, we read that ““Other people’s judgments were meaningless unless you allowed them to mean something.” In school, it seems, we became addicted to allowing those judgements to mean everything.

I suppose this herd mentality is built into us. It’s not easy breaking free, though the right books will certainly help (Hoffman, perhaps?).

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series, a 1950s-era story in which the good guys battle the KKK. Save money with the four-novels-in-one Kindle edition.