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This and That and ‘Shadow of the Wind’

  • Our heatwave continues. (It’s time for y’all to say “there there.”)
  • Our lack of rain continues. The grass keeps growing because I think the house was built on an old kryptonite mine, but the small trees need to be watered a couple of times a week. We got out both riding mowers this past weekend and cut the grass before it looked like a hayfield.
  • I’m half-way through my radiation therapy (43 days in a row not counting weekends) for prostate cancer. Other than feeling more tired than usual, I haven’t experienced any ill effects.
  • On Facebook, people are going through a phase of posting the covers of their favorite books for 17 days in a row. When a friend tagged me to do it, I told her I don’t have the energy to post that many covers. But today, I posted the cover of Shadow of the Wind. It’s one of my favorite books. It has three follow-up books, the first of which was ok, but nothing like this one. I never got around to books three and four.
  • As for my own writing, I posted this on my Facebook author’s page today: Sparrow, who pushes a shopping cart around Torreya, is currently sitting in a diner eavesdropping on a conversation between two cops at a nearby table. They think she’s ancient, frail, deaf, and demented, so they aren’t watching their words about last night’s attempt on the life of the local KKK leader.Sparrow has been sitting there for quite some time, on hold as I go through radiation and hormone therapy to get rid of this cancer. She wants to move on with her story. So far, she’s been patient. She’s the protagonist in my next North Florida story. I hope she doesn’t run amok and change the plot while I’m temporarily away from the manuscript.Meanwhile, I hope y’all are enjoying my change-of-pace comedy/satire, “Special Investigative Reporter.”
  • There’s a nice review of Special Investigative Reporter on Big Al’s Books and Pals.

–Malcolm

The world’s magic is so danged obvious

“Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.” – Tom Robbins

I like Tom Robbins’ novels so that probably tells you where I’m coming from on the question of magic. The sins of government and business, we know, but magic isn’t complicit in them. Yet, we scoff at magic. Does anyone use the word “scoff” anymore? Perhaps not, so if you’re too young to know that word, I’ll rephrase: Yet we badmouth magic.

I gotta tell you, I don’t really trust people who scoff (badmouth) magic. I’m sure they mean well even though they might be crazy Or worse.

If you’re a fan of Penn and Teller, you know (I assume) that they’re not doing magic. It’s all tricks, lies, and sleight of hand. They’re fun to watch, though, including on their “Fool Us” television program.  At times I thought maybe, just maybe, the late Doug Henning might have snuck a little real magic into his TV performances, but perhaps not.

Perhaps I was influenced too much by the movie “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” in which Lao (Tony Randall) had a mysterious travelling show which featured many acts. The strange thing was, audiences often preferred the sleight of hand to real magic. I was studying magic when that movie came out in 1964 and remember getting really ticked off about the clowns in the audience who preferred some kind of trickery over what Merlin could do.

It became obvious to me as the years zoomed by that those who could do real magic had little or no interest in appearing on TV. I don’t blame them. In fact, students of mysticism and other forms of consciousness-raising are often warned about psychic phenomena. Why? Because such things can derail them from their true goal: merging with, shall we say, the cosmos. Yes, mystics may be able to see the future or tell you how much money you have in your wallet, but all that is beside the point. Once derailed into, say, fortune-telling, the fame of it can cut one off from what was originally his or her true goal.

Magic, as opposed to sleight of hand, seems very natural to me. That’s why it shows up in novels such as Conjure Woman’s Cat and Sarabande. Most readers think it’s just part of the story rather than something they could actually do in their lives. But to perform on TV, I couldn’t do that. I’m too much of an introvert. Plus, doing that would gratify the ego rather than what’s important to oneself.

Yet, today more than ever, I have little trust of government and business that I wonder why such things are so important in so many people’s lives. Folks have been fooled so often, yet they keep going back for more government and business. Meanwhile, the solution (magic) is so danged obvious, it’s a shame more people don’t see it. One need not kowtow to the feds, the rich, or the celebrities: they are paper dragons, lies, and sleight of hand.

Yeah, I know, I’m out here whistling into the wind about all this and unlikely to change anyone’s mind. However, I do hope that some of those who read my books might think, “Hmm, maybe there is something to this magic stuff.”

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program

The pros and cons of an MFA in creative writing are widely debated: on one hand, such programs offer students the opportunity to work with accomplished authors, whose expertise (and endorsements) could make all the difference in publishing their first book. On the other hand, such programs often come with a hefty price tag, with fully funded options few and far between. But regardless of whether you go for an MFA, some things are critical to establishing a career as an author that you probably don’t know, unless you’ve learned them the hard way (or you’ve worked in publishing).

Source: 3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program | Jane Friedman\

The important take-aways from this post have little to do with whether or not you’re considering an MFA program or even know any reasons why anyone would sign up for one.

This post is interesting because it shows you that agents and publishers don’t read your manuscript the same way a beta reader, professor, or colleague in a critique group reads it.

Obviously, the agent and publisher want to see if your story will sell and to do that they focus closely on the voice you demonstrate in the opening lines and whether or not the characters and plot develop reasonably throughout the work.

Their view, while narrow and expedient, is often similar to what reviewers and knowing readers bring to a book. Worth looking at, I think.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

As a Man Thinketh

As a Man Thinketh is a self-help book by James Allen, published in 1903. It was described by Allen as “… [dealing] with the power of thought, and particularly with the use and application of thought to happy and beautiful issues. I have tried to make the book simple, so that all can easily grasp and follow its teaching, and put into practice the methods which it advises. It shows how, in his own thought-world, each man holds the key to every condition, good or bad, that enters into his life, and that, by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts, he may remake his life, and transform his circumstances. The price of the book is only one shilling, and it can be carried in the pocket.”  It was also described by Allen as “A book that will help you to help yourself”, “A pocket companion for thoughtful people”, and “A book on the power and right application of thought.” – Wikipedia

An original copy of the 1903 edition of James Allen’s remarkable book sat on my father’s bookshelves while I was growing up. The book was thin, the cover was old (nothing like the current cover on Amazon), and the text was written in an old-fashioned style. It took me a long time to discover the book and realize that what is held within it a remarkable prescription. (You can download a free copy here as well as from Project Gutenberg.)

The book, which I’ve mentioned on this blog several times before, contains what used to be called “aphorisms” (suggestions for “right living.”) It can be read that way, that is to say, if you think positive thoughts and avoid negative thoughts, you’ll be a happier, more likeable person.

Or, it can be read literally, as though continued focus on a particular kind of thought will manifest that thought in one’s life. This is the way I read it. Many books, including The Secret and others about the law of attraction, affirmations, and practical meditation owe their existence to this book.

“THE aphorism, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.'”

That’s not easy to see because we seem to have been programmed to think a lot of negative thoughts. Maybe they’re rants or gripes or poor me notions or the kind of gossip people used to trade at the barbershop. It’s easier to say something is screwed up than to find hope in the world. So, if we think negative thoughts most of the time, that’s who we are even though from time to time we read a book or go to a lecture and spend a few days thinking positive thoughts.

Peer pressure influences us a lot, I think. If everyone around us is saying things are going to hell in a handbasket, it’d hard to step forward and say, no they’re not. So we don’t say it. Who would believe it if we did say it? It takes a lot of effort to see that thoughts are things and that they control what happens in the physical world. One has to give the notion a try and work with it for a while to see any results.

Suffice it to say, when a friend comes on hard times, it’s best not to say, “You caused this to happen.” It’s easier to say that hard times were caused by fate, bad breaks, or God moving in mysterious ways. That places the responsibility everywhere else. And, it obscures the fact that–to paraphrase Marianne Williamson–we are more powerful than we know.  The sad thing is this: if we have been “programmed” since birth to believe that we believe, it’s difficult to change to a new way of seeing the world, much less expect others to accept it. Those who speak out about this are usually mocked one way or another as (according to the old phrase) being a “goodie-two-shoes” or naive or just plain crazy.

I’m lucky. I can insert my beliefs into my fiction without being put in a home because people assume all that comes from my characters or another reality. If you’re in the insurance business or sell cars for a living, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Life insurance salespeople really can’t say, “You’ll die whenever your ready” and car salesmen really can’t say, “The next time you decide to wreck your car, come see me for a new model.”

If I could, I would go door to door handing out copies of James Allen’s book. If people read them, the world would be forever changed,

Malcolm

Malcolm R’ Campbell’s hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande” are based on the principles in James Allen’s book.

 

 

 

 

The Long, Winding Road to Publication 

I have given a lot of thought to those 15 years, and what I learned from that huge mistake of turning down the offer from HarperCollins. I’ve wondered why I would have been so willing to subject myself to being treated like a commodity, as the major publishers tend to do, rather than working with people who value your work for what it is. And one thing became clear. It’s not the money, although that certainly helps. It’s more a matter of being taken seriously, of having your efforts validated. It’s about avoiding that feeling of meeting writers you admire and having them dismiss you because you’re an unknown author. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve experienced this, and it’s an awful feeling.

Source: The Long, Winding Road to Publication – The Millions

Most published authors can tell you a story like Russell Rowland, if not worse. Editors quit, agents move on, publishers change directions, reviewers only pay attention to big houses and big books, it goes on and on. If you’re an aspiring author, Rowland’s long, winding road is a cautionary tale.

Readers, who enjoy his books are likely to say, “He should have been treated better than this,,” or “If a successful author has to fight to a contract, what chance to those of us right out of school have in this business?” The answer is always “Slim to none.”

A friend on my Facebook list, who is very well known, honestly reports on her weekly writing activity, including rejections. Rejections? What’s wrong with the people who are reviewing her work for possible publication. She is more well-known than Roland but still has to fight for every sale.

Publishing has always been this way though, it appears to me, it’s much harder today than it was 25 years ago to have a manuscript considered by either an agent or a sizeable publisher. I don’t know why. Perhaps publishers were losing too much money considering everything. Or perhaps it’s more difficult now because profit margins are smaller and everyone wants to be a writer.

Dorothy Parker once suggested that if you have any friends who want to be writers, one of the best things you can do is “Shoot them now, while they’re happy.”  When I was a college teacher, several students asked about their odds of becoming successful authors. None of them liked my response and (so far) I haven’t seen any of their names on a bestseller list.

I like writing, but it’s somewhat of a curse; as long as you know that, you’re ready to go.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s most recent novel is a mystery/satire.

 

 

 

 

PEN America to Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons 

“America’s prison system implements that largest book ban in the United States. This year, as part of national Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 – 28), the free expression and literary organization PEN America will launch a weeklong initiative to shed light on the practice of banning books in the nation’s prisons and jails. ‘Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019’ will feature events across the country, online activities, and public education to highlight restrictions of the right to read for the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States.”

Source: As Part of National Book Banning Week, PEN America to Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons – PEN America

We hear about prisoners’ lack of access to books from time to time, but it always seems isolated to one jail or another. That obscures the issue. Book banning in prisons is worse than all the book challenges in all the school and public libraries put together.

We’re not talking about books with titles like “How to Tunnel out of Sing Sing” or “Bomb Making for Dummies.” I often wonder under what authority does the warden or those he reports to ban the same titles the rest of us are reading.

I hope PEN America’s initiative brings the problem to the attention of more people and shows how pervasive it is.

Malcolm

 

 

Writing about current issues

During the 1960s, folk songs, poems, and books focused on the stormy issues of the day. They seemed to have a large audience, primarily among high school and college audiences. One primary focus was, of course, the war, followed by such things as the military-industrial complex, credibility gap, conscription, ROTC on campuses, and civil rights.

Protest songs and literature seemed to subside for a while; or maybe not. If they did, they have certainly returned now. Sites like Literary Hub, Arts & Letters Daily, and Poets & Writers that post articles and links claim there are more writers speaking out today than ever. The liberal writers, of course, focus their wrath on Trump; the conservative and moderate writers focus their wrath on the Democrats’ move toward the far left.

I think the anti-war movement during the 1960s did finally influence more people to look at what we were doing in Vietnam and whether or not it was worth it. Maybe I’ve just gotten older, but it seems to me that a lot of today’s protests are preaching to the choir; it’s as though the writers have given up on influencing the opposition.

I try to stay away from most of that. For one thing, I seldom write poetry, so I can’t suddenly come out with a new poem that speaks to an issue. While my Florida Folk Magic series targets Jim Crow attitudes and the KKK in the 1950s, I’m not writing present-day fiction that gives me an opportunity to make snarky or wise comments about today’s issues.

I do have hot-button issues such as China’s brutal and illegal occupation of Tibet, so-called honor killings, and the environment, and from time to time, I say something about one or more of these on Facebook. Most people who see my news feed tend to ignore Tibet and honor killing posts while agreeing that we don’t need to be rolling back conservation gains made in previous years. Sometimes I wish I were a badass poet who could write quickly, for then I could speak more about the issues I care about.

So, for the most part, I am silent. Those who champion many issues say that our silence is the same thing as consent. Perhaps so. I feel bad about that at times. However, I’m a long-time introvert, so I’m not going to be out there like AOC with a daily barrage of complaints and finger-pointing. President Nixon popularized the phrase “silent majority,” implying that outside all the shrill protests, a large number of people (presumably) agreed with him. I didn’t like that phrase then and I don’t like it now because it’s just too darned easy to say that the so-called silent majority supports whatever you want.

I do have a volatile Scots temper, so I’m likely to get into serious trouble online if I say what I really think. Plus, I have a general distrust of political parties, so my views are all over the spectrum rather than dictated by the top brass of one group or another. This means that when I do speak out on Facebook, I tend to get bashed by both Republicans and Democrats. General Chesty Puller once said, “We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” Yes it does, but it’s not a comfortable place to be online.

So, when anybody asks me what I think about the issues, the Fifth Amendment is my friend. That sounds gutless, I know, but at my age, I can’t beat anyone up or run fast enough to get away from them.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Pay it Forward, Give Back

Nice concepts. But, there are so many worthy causes not even counting family and friends. Hard to choose. And then, if you’re so inclined, there are political campaigns now on top of all the charities, funds, non-profits, and other organizations asking for cash.

Some say every dollar helps. So they ask for $25. That’s not too bad–unless you tally up how many requests for $25 you get every month. Sometimes I get multiple requests from the same place and feel like sending back a note that says, I’m not Jo Rowling, Bill Gates, James Patterson, or an oil baron from Saudi Arabia. How much do you think I have after paying the rent?

Some requests bother me, and those are the ones from everyday people like me who get behind on their mortgage payments (or whatever) and put up a crowdfunding link on Facebook and we’re all rather shamed into kicking in to help somebody we don’t know make ends meet. Yet, I read how they got into debt–because I’ve been there–and wish I could contribute.

I tend to contribute to environmental causes–the National Parks, a “Friends of” group for a specific park, the National Parks and Conservation Association, etc. Like many, I try to keep up with which general charities use an exorbitant amount of the money donated for administrative costs (and goodness knows what).

There’s so much to be done, doing it seems overwhelming. Personally, I don’t care for the size of the defense budget and think a lot of that money could be better used in other programs. All of us probably have our own pet peeves about “bad” uses of government funds that we think could be put to better use somewhere else. So, as a lover of National Parks, it ticks me off that Congress won’t appropriate enough money to keep them running, and this causes those of us who really can’t afford to do it to contribute to programs the government ought to be funding.

Whatever your favorite causes are, there’s always a chain of events that created the problem, e.g., people with high medical bills going bankrupt and needing help. Yes, we can and should speak out for change, but until that change occurs, we have a lot of pieces to pick up that aren’t being covered by the government, churches, charities, and “Friends of” organizations.

I felt rather discouraged when some financial organization or other said, in response to “tax the rich” campaigns, that even if the government took all of the rich’s money, it would be a drop in the bucket insofar as the deficit and/or funding needs are concerned. That makes my $25 contribution to Glacier National Park seem rather inconsequential. All I can hope is that my $25 along with a $25-dollar check for several thousand other people actually will help make things better whether we’re paying it forward or giving back.

Does anyone else wrestle with the amount of money needed vs. the amount anyone of us can contribute?

Malcolm

My novels “The Sun Singer,” “Mountain Song,” and “Sarabande” are te in Glacier National Park, so I try to support the park’s projects when I can.

Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

If you were around during the Vietnam War, you’ll probably remember that much of the news coverage dealt with body counts, to show the progress the U.S. was making in ridding the country of the Viet Cong. In my novel At Sea, the protagonist’s grandfather (“Jayee”) keeps his own listing of those from Montana who were killed in the war.

Jayee’s Lists

 

Jayee’s Lists (The Poor Sons of Bitches who Died) lay faded in a low kitchen drawer beneath batteries, broken pencils, expired dog food coupons, forgotten pink birthday candles, gum erasers, and other unsorted miscellany.

Superimposed over the small battlefield of the ranch, where lambs and eagles met largely unrecorded deaths on a rangeland framed by fences, box elders, cottonwoods, and a narrow creek carrying water off the backbone of the earth in years of drought and years of flood, the old man recorded soldiers’ names and souls.

He read the news from Vietnam with morning coffee and evening spirits, and with a fine surveyor’s hand, he tallied the bare bones of body counts between narrowed-ruled lines in lightweight Bluehorse notebooks intended for the wisdom of school.

After dinner, he walked out through the bluebunch wheatgrass and settling sheep to his ancient Studebaker pickup truck. He carried a sharp yellow pencil and a pack of Chesterfields, tools for doing his sums, “calculating Montana” in a cloud of cigarette smoke from “vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, blended mild.”

On the first page of the first book he wrote, Here are the poor sons of bitches who died. On the last page of the last book, he wrote, The dead, dying, and wounded came home frayed, faded, scuffed, stained, or broken.

On the pages in between, he wrote the name of each Montana soldier who was killed or missing in recorded battles far away. Sipping bourbon, smoking like a lotus in a sea of fire, he ordered, numbered, and divided the names by service branch, by casualty year, by meaningful cross-references, by statistically significant tables, by the moon’s phases and the sun’s seasons, and by the cycles of sheep.

Jayee remarked from year to year that the notebooks grew no heavier with use. He saw fit to include the names of the towns where the dead once lived, fathered children, and bought cigarettes. These names he learnt were also lighter than the smoke.

The current of his words between the pale blue lines of each thin page arose in fat, upper case letters that scraped the edges of their narrow channels. They began as a mere trickle from 1961 to 1964 that grew in volume in 1965 before the first spring thaw, to become a cold deluge that crested in 1968, wreaking havoc across the frail floodplain of pastures and pages, carrying the dark, angry names scrawled with blunting pencil, and broken letters, through irregular gray smudges, over erasures that undercut the page deep enough and wide enough to rip away the heart from multiple entries. There was little respite in 1969. After that, the deaths receded and most of the physical blood dried up by 1973.

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG  SANDY  MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP…

Jayee’s tallies added up like this: USA—169 USAF—16 USMC—59 USN—23 TOT—267

The old man made 267 trips around Montana between 1961 and 1972 that no surveying jobs could account for. He said little to the family about it and they didn’t often ask.

During Jayee’s second trip to Havre in 1966, Mavis, a waitress at the Beanery, noticed a stack of 44-inch white crosses sticking out from beneath a tarp in his truck. On each cross, there was a name. When she suggested that Jayee was stealing them from roadside accident scenes, he said he made them per spec to repay old debts.

Mavis asked Katoya if Jayee was all right and Katoya said: “right enough.” He returned to the restaurant multiple times to prove he was right enough and was sitting there on August 31, 1967, when the 77-year-old Great Northern restaurant served its last bowl of Irish stew and closed its doors for good. When the building was torn down the following February, he pounded “an extra cross” into the rubble where the counter once stood and said it was the best he could do.

Months passed and additional stories surfaced about an old man crisscrossing the state searching for the families of the fallen, and of warm conversations lasting long into the dark hours. Jayee remained solitary and taciturn in the face of public or private praise or blame and traveled from town to town methodically, as though he was marking chaining stations along an endless open traverse.

After each individual’s name, he wrote XD (cross delivered), XR (cross refused), or CNF (could not find).

On October 18, 1974, Jayee died (surrounded by old relatives and the close perfume of vintage tobacco) with a freshly sharpened yellow pencil, with a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields, with lists and spirits close at hand, waiting for closure, he always told those who asked about them.

Reverend Jones stood before the mourners in the small church and read the names of those who wished to remember and to be remembered, and one upon one, they created a great hymn that rose up over the banks of their consciousness and flowed down the rivers of their perception in a crowned deluge.

Copyright © 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

 

 

Housekeeping (after all, it is Saturday)

Since I’m not a fan of housekeeping, I procrastinate on the housekeeping chores that go along with having a website and a blog. On the website, I’m likely to let pages sit for a while without a constant supply of fresh material so that return visitors have something new to read. Here, I’ve uploaded quite a few posts, but didn’t touch the pages that display on the menu across the top of the screen for a long time.

Now, the website is looking better and I have two new pages–replacing two out-of-date pages–that I’ll try to keep current with excerpts and pictures.

My view of websites and blogs is that, other than talking about my books and related subjects, they are all about you rather than all about me. I wrote an article for a magazine for nonprofit organizations in which I said that many of them were missing the boat when they advertised events and exhibits. Like commercial advertising, nonprofit news releases which appeared in the newspaper should be about the reader, that is, showing him/her why the event would be fun, entertaining, and otherwise worthwhile.

Author C. Hope Clark, who sends out a weekly newsletter from her Funds for Writers website said that author newsletters seldom do much good because instead of talking about books and interesting subject matter, they often degenerate into monthly updates about the authors’ kids and pets. That’s not what the readers want to see. As Clark but it, they didn’t subscribe to be a buddy, they subscribed to find out about exciting new releases and, in some cases, book signings and other events the author would be attending. So, I try to use my website to show prospective readers why they might enjoy my books rather than having, say, a page about what my cats are doing.

This blog is a bit more relaxed. Since I’m disorganized, I’m likely to talk about anything here and sometimes it is about what my pets are doing.  Sorry about that, if you’re not a cat person.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the improving website and the two new pages on this blog. And, if there are certain kinds of posts you want to see more of, let me know in the comments section

–Malcolm