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Co-ordinating Christmas Gifts, Or Else

When we were kids, my brothers and I–and to some extent, our parents–posted Christmas wish lists on the refrigerator door. These not only let people know what we were interested in, but also were a promise that when records and books were concerned, we wouldn’t buy them for ourselves until the new year.

My wife and I make Christmas lists for the same reason. With online purchases so easy to make, we don’t want to find out on Christmas Day that the books we though each other might want have already been bought.

We exchange Christmas lists with my brothers for the same reason. And, we circulate a larger Christmas list for my granddaughters. For one thing, people our age have no idea what children a thousand miles away might want for books and hobbies and games. And, since we don’t want duplications, my daughter creates the list and sends it to my wife who shares it with my sister-in-law. Whoever sees it first, erases the things we buy so that there can’t be any duplications.

I suppose the alternative is sending the same darn thing every year: a box of favorite booze, maple syrup or candies, and other edible holiday treats where duplication doesn’t matter. After all, if every one of my relatives sent me a bottle of single malt Scotch, it’s not like it will go bad waiting for me to get to it!

(I seldom send copies of my own novels to family members. They’ve been so supportive of my career, that they usually order their own copies as soon as each book is released.)

As usual, it often costs more to ship Christmas gifts than it takes to purchase them. Fortunately, my wife is very good at wrapping gifts. I package them up and take them to the post office. Sure, we could buy them online, include gift wrapping, and have them sent directly to family members, but that just seems kind of crass. we also avoid sending checks because that seems to be just too easy a way to let non-involvement take over the holidays.

So, how do y’all approach gifts to family and friends far away? Same thing every year (the Scotch route), edibles you know they like, buy it and hope for the best, a circulating wish list, or have you just said “to heck with it” and stopped exchanging gifts altogether?

One thing is certain, now that I’m adult and having to co-ordinate gifts to the four corners of the galaxy, I appreciate what my folks, grandparents, aunts, and uncles did when I was a kid and Christmas looked so easy.

Malcolm

“A riveting great read from first page to last, “Special Investigative Reporter” showcases author Malcom R. Campbell’s impressive narrative storytelling talents. Certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “Special Investigative Reporter” is also available in a paperback edition (9781950750221, $12.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).” – Midwest Book Review

 

Random and Unrelated Thoughts

  • Okay, where did y’all come from? You know who you are. You’re one of the one hundred people who stopped by this blog in the last 24 hours. This is a niche blog: that means it’s an acquired taste like anchovies and Finnegans Wake. So, when a lot of people show up, my first thought is: “What the hell happened?” Frankly, I think the FBI, CIA, and NSA have something to do with it. If so, I’ll never tell where the secret files are hidden. If not, then thanks for reading.
  • I saw another ad on a writers’ newsletter this morning that basically said, “Dear writer, You’ve poured your heart and soul into writing a novel, shouldn’t you take the next step and hire a professional editor?” Sure, this could help. The thing is, if a BIG NEW YORK PUBLISHER has bought the MS, they’ll edit it. If not, your editing will cost more than my self-published book can earn. How do I make up the difference?
  • If you have a job and take a vacation to go on the TV show “Survivor,” what are odds that job will still be there if female contestants accuse you on the air of being too touchy-feely, you get warned, and then later you’re removed from the program for an off-camera incident that involved (apparently) a “Survivor” staff member? I’m not sure why I still watch this show because it’s rather like a soap opera and, like other reality shows, isn’t as real as it appears.
  • Regardless of one’s political beliefs, it’s really hard to watch the online coverage of the impeachment hearings without a heavy dose of heroin. I suppose it’s possible that those participating have an opioid IV hooked up to themselves to make sure they get through it all without going nuts.
  • Near the end of the year, every nonprofit that I’ve ever cared about sends me an e-mail that says. “Hey Malcolm, an anonymous donor has agreed to triple match every dollar you give before the deadline of December 18th. I want to ask, “Why is there a deadline?” and “Where the hell am I suppose to get the money to donate $25 to several dozen charities?” I usually send each charity a copy of one of my books so they can sell it (ten years down the road) for $1000000 on eBay.
  • The two books on my Christmas list are Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and Dora Goss’ The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl.  I hope Santa has me on the “nice list.”
  • We’re having beef stew for supper tonight. I dislike Port wine, but it really works well in the stew.
  • I have a feeling that once I upload this post, I won’t have a hundred visitors in the next 24 hours.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novel “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” available in audiobook, e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions.

 

Rebel in English Class

I never understood why I was forced to take English courses since I was fluent in the language. Consequently, the rules made no sense to me because they seemed to be applied after the fact to something I did naturally. Also, I associated the rules with drill which was tedious and boring and seemed to have no practical application to speaking or writing.

Think of something you do naturally–like walking. Suppose you were forced to take a class in walking which was based on all the scientific things known about a person’s body and how it walks. Quite likely, you might think–unless you wanted to become a doctor–that the science of walking had little to do with your ability to walk. Yet, your school system mandated a course in walking because, after all, people need to be able to walk.

In today’s world, immersion-style approaches to learning a language seem to get the best results. Languages, such as Scots Gaelic, Blackfeet, and Hawaiian that were on the verge of extinction are being rescued through an immersion approach. I often wonder whether I would have been less at war with my English teachers if they had focused on immersion rather than atomistic drill.

Being a rebel had some unfortunate consequences when it came to learning other languages. When I took courses in Spanish and German, those courses were based on formal grammar rules. So, when the teacher said, “Today we’re going to talk about the XYZ rule,” I had no idea what that referred to because I hadn’t retained any rules by name from my English classes. So, I was behind the eightball since I had to figure out what kinds of phrases those rules applied to in English before I knew what the Spanish teach or German teacher was talking about.

It seemed to me that everyone who wasn’t a rebel in English class and who went to the trouble to learning all the rules had a much easier time when they showed up in a German, Spanish, or French class. When the teacher said, “Today, we’re going to look at the future perfect conditional,” everyone but me seemed to know what that was.

When I was taking German and Spanish in high school and college, I think an immersion-style course or study abroad approach would have helped me rather than approaching the languages in courses based on rules and drill. The rules make no sense to me in English, so I have no jumping-off point for learning new languages in a rules-based approach.

With a Scots ancestry, I’ve always wanted to learn Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig), a language that I think might be coming back after years of being banned and slandered by the English. I also wished I was capable of learning Blackfeet because I began my writing career with a focus on Montana and also Hawaiian because I love the Islands. Knowing the language is the key to many things because it’s tied directly to the soul of the people who speak it. No wonder the U.S. banned Hawaiian and Blackfeet for years.

But, I digress. When the Blackfeet Nation started a school in Browning, MT that would help people recover their own language, they corresponded with experts in Hawaii who were using immersion techniques to save the Islands’ language from extinction. I corresponded with educators in both groups about 20-30 years ago. I felt bad because my country tried to destroy those languages just as the English tried to destroy my ancestors’ language. But I was stuck: I couldn’t learn any of these languages by going to the places they were taught/spoken and I couldn’t learn them based on language structure drills.

My view is that we need to find ways of saving dying languages and better ways of teaching our own. I have no clue what those ways are, but as an author, I know I’d be lost if my own language suddenly became illegal due to the edict of one conqueror or another. The theft/destruction of a people’s language is about as low as one can go; it’s unconscionable.  Goodness knows I can’t help fix the problem because being a rebel in English class had more far-reaching ramifications than I knew.

My view is that we should spend time and resources restoring all the American Indian languages we tried to destroy.

Malcolm

My ignorant love of languages has led to the use of Hawaiian, Blackfeet, Tagalog, and Gàidhlig in my books with a lot of help from native speakers. I appreciate the help of an instructor from the University of Hawaii for the translations in this novel.

 

 

 

 

An author’s tenderness

In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft). In 2019, she was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature – Wikipedia

“Tenderness is spontaneous and disinterested; it goes far beyond empathetic fellow feeling. Instead it is the conscious, though perhaps slightly melancholy, common sharing of fate. Tenderness is deep emotional concern about another being, its fragility, its unique nature, and its lack of immunity to suffering and the effects of time. Tenderness perceives the bonds that connect us, the similarities and sameness between us. It is a way of looking that shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected, cooperating with, and codependent on itself.” Olga Tokarczuk, from her Nobel Lecture

If you’re an author, reading Olga Tokarczuk’s entire speech will be, IMHO, time well spent.

An atomistic approach to everything has split the world and ourselves into bits and pieces that tend to compete with each other, and become so polarized they obscure any hope of inclusiveness and oneness. While acknowledging that first-person narratives are/were a miracle in storytelling and seeing the world, Tokarczuk acknowledges that they do not allow for the importance of others and others’ views. When it comes to the world as a whole, this is rather like the lefthand having no idea or concept that it’s part of the same entity that brings forth the right hand or the feet or the heart.

“Literature,” said Tokarczuk, “is built on tenderness toward any being other than ourselves. It is the basic psychological mechanism of the novel. Thanks to this miraculous tool, the most sophisticated means of human communication, our experience can travel through time, reaching those who have not yet been born, but who will one day turn to what we have written, the stories we told about ourselves and our world.”

Seeing all our stories throughout our own first lens is natural, but we cannot stop there if we want our books to carry meaningful messages that get past the illusion of the world as a collection disparate objects and events into the oneness that is really there.

Malcolm

Novels are like cigarettes: it’s not easy to quit

When I wrote Giving Yourself Permission to Quit, I resolved to stop working on my follow-up novel to my “Florida Folk Magic Series” because the plot was giving me too much grief and I was seriously sick and tired of researching more than I wanted to know about the KKK. I resolved to stop smoking many times (yes, I finally did quit) but failed more often than now. Some said it was harder to get off cigarettes than heroin. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Safer than writing?

I’m rationalizing that I haven’t failed because, although I’m still working on that novel, I’m not inhaling. That means I’m doing more research and tinkering with notes about characters and thinking about how to untangle the story. But I’m not really doing any writing. This rationale never worked with real cigarettes, so I expect my resolve about this book is probably in the toilet.

The novel’s working title is “Dark Arrows, Darker Targets,” but that’s just speculation because I’m not really writing it even though my muse and other dark forces are telling me I really need to do it. When I lived in northern Illinois and my house and car were snowed in, I once walked several blocks to buy cigarettes because I was out of them. That took grit, I want you to know.

Quite possibly, writing this novel will take the same kind of insane grit. Please, I don’t want either applause or pity, especially from non-smokers out there who don’t know what it’s like. Smoking, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is an addiction that never really goes away. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 25 years or so, but I’m still addicted. Like AA and drinking, one cannot smoke a Marlboro every once in a while and be in the clear.

The same must be true of writing. Like any sane person, I’ve tried to quit numerous times, but telling stories is worse than being hooked on heroin. Think about that when you sit down at your PC and think “what could it hurt?” and type the words once upon a time.

Yes, it will be a joyful experience for a while. But then, before you know it, you’ll be writing more and more and you’ll be choosing darker and darker subjects. At this point, you’re pretty much toast and you need to go to a meeting and say, “My name is ____________ and I’m a writer.”

Seriously, must of us who aren’t smart enough to go to that meeting write what we write because the stories are important to us whether they find readers or not. I have no idea why this is so. Years ago, when I worked at a developmental disabilities center and was rising up through the ranks until I became a unit manager, one of the directors asked about my goals. I said that I thought that after working there for a number of years, I would ultimately become a patient. They didn’t like that.

So, when I speak of the mental problems surrounding writers, I know how innocently is starts and that even if you begin by shooting aspiring writers while they’re still happy (as Dorothy Parker suggested), you’ll ultimately choose the dark side and become a writer yourself. There’s no exit.

And yet, when this book I’m not writing is complete, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. “Smokin’!!!!! Now the story’s all said and done,” I’ll be thinking when the first copies of the book arrive in the mail. After that, my muse will suggest a new book and I’ll be back to the daily grind after pretending for a while that I’m strong enough to quit.

If you’re a writer, are you trying to quit? No kidding, a pack of Marlboros might start you off on a safer addiction.

Malcolm

Looking for an image of an old Rosetta Tharpe recording – UPDATED

If you’ve been around for a while and/or like vintage gospel, jazz, and blues, you know who Rosetta Tharpe was as well as how influential she was. As Wikipedia notes, “Tharpe was a pioneer in her guitar technique; she was among the first popular recording artists to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar, presaging the rise of electric blues. Her guitar playing technique had a profound influence on the development of British blues in the 1960s; in particular a European tour with Muddy Waters in 1963 with a stop in Manchester is cited by prominent British guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Keith Richards.”

So, one would think that finding a picture of a 1951 Decca release of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” with Marie Knight would be easy to locate on the Internet. Perhaps, but I can’t find it and would really like to see what it looks like so I can mention it in a novel. I could fake that, I suppose, by assuming that it looks like the other Decca recordings of the era, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that.

I spent a couple of hours this morning looking for the image. So far, I’ve found everything but. Seriously, I’d rather be writing the novel that pulling teeth, research-wise, for every fact I use. I’ve mentioned Tharpe before in my “Florida Folk Magic Series” because my character Eulalie was a blues singer and knows who all the singers of her era were. In the novel in progress, the main character is named “Sparrow” so that’s why this recording is important. Plus, I like the song, one that everyone and their brother or sister has recorded. Since the book is set in 1954-1955, the 1951 recording is the most reasonable release to use.

If you’re thinking about becoming a writer, obsessions like this will often take over your days.

UPDATE:

And here it is, compliments of Sandy Daigler who picked the one method of searching Google’s images that didn’t occur to me:

 

 

Malcolm

Oops, a friend’s e-mail was hacked and the hacker tried to scan me out of $$$

I got an e-mail from a friend this morning asking if I could do her a favor.

“Sure.”

She responded, “I’m traveling and need somebody who can pick up some iTunes cards for my daughter.”

I had no idea what those were, so I asked where they could be purchased.

Apparently at a grocery store or drug store. The thing was, she wanted three $100-cards and provided instructions for how to e-mail the card’s number (or whatever).

$300?

If she had asked for a $25 card, I might well have done it. But three cards at $100 each? I don’t have that kind of money even with her promise to pay me back when she got back home.

It was a scam. Her e-mail had been hacked, she told me, in an e-mail later in the day.

I told her the scammer was greedy and thought I’d send $300 worth of stuff. Apparently, the hacker changed her address for replies in a way that was hard to detect. I might have sent $25 and never known she had nothing to do with the request.

We apparently have to remain constantly vigilant!

–Malcolm

Breaking point-of-view rules

Several days ago, I posted this comment on my Facebook profile and, as it turned out from the comments, I’m not the only one who thought the author was breaking point-of-view rules:

I’m reading an interesting mystery, filled with misdirection and clues that may or may not be true.

I won’t tell you what it is because I’m not here to bash the author but to mention point-of-view errors that mar the book. Like many novels, this one is told in alternating chapters about the major characters, each in a third-person restricted point of view.

This means that if the character doesn’t see it, hear it, think it, or intuit it, it (whatever) can’t be there.

What mars these chapters is the intrusion of the suddenly omniscient author who says things like:

“Bob did not see the man hiding in the shadows behind the steps.”

“Sally turned off the TV set just before a major story from her hometown aired. Had she seen it, she would have done things differently.”

You can do this if you’re writing from a consistently omniscient viewpoint. If you’re writing from inside a character’s head in first or third person, you’re playing games with the reader.

Most of those commenting thought the writer as sloppy and/or that the book needed a better editor. One person mentioned the distinction between “close” and “distant” third person. As Writer’s Digest puts it, “The advantage of middle-distance and far-distance third person is that instead of hearing the opinions and reactions of one person, the POV character, the reader can now hear those of two people: POV character and author. Distant third person lets the author put in his two-cents’ worth of interpretation of events.” Frankly, I think this is an abomination because the author has intruded himself or herself into the story.

So, what do you think?

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” one of the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series in which the narrator is a cat. 

When politicians eat crow, are they happy?

I’ve never eaten crow, figuratively or literally so I had to Google “eating crow” to see what it tastes like. One answer on a Q&A site said crow tastes a lot like an owl (well, that’s helpful) or like a duck without the grease. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends hunted ducks and they pleased my mother no end by ringing the doorbell and handing her a lot of duck corpses. I knew how to clean ducks, but I was in college, so mother got stuck doing it.

With that in mind, when the growing list of interwoven, atrocious news stories finally comes to an end, the politicians who end up eating crow might have a pretty good meal–a little gamey, perhaps–but not so bad. It’s too bad crow doesn’t taste like chicken since many of the politicians mentioned in recent news were either acting like chickens (scared) or running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Have you noticed? Every day’s news is weirder than it was the day before. In fact, it all reads/sounds like satire, like some Peter Sellers or Jim Carrey or John Cleese movie.  There’s no way everyone out there is telling the truth or even knows what it is. That means, we’re going to need a lot of crows.

As it turns out, crows are smarter than a lot of people in Congress. What a shame to kill them, broil them and feed them to all the liars. How did things come to this?

I guess it’s our fault, the voters, that is. We elected these people. And now, look at the mess they’ve made. I have no idea how to fix it, though I do thinking that eating crow might seem like a reward opposed to, say, fear and trembling and/or jail time. Apparently, we haven’t been minding the store. Out employees–Senators and Representatives–have been doing what they want rather than listening to us. That’s insubordination at best.

Do you have a solution for the mess in Washington, D.C.? Term limits is my solution because it keeps people who are supposed to be working for us from becoming all-powerful millionaires at our expense. No doubt, their staffs keep crow in the freezer just in case.

Malcolm

 

New “In the Spotlight” Page on Website: Landmark Florida Trial

The 1952 murder trial of Ruby McCollum in Live Oak, Florida had a very strong impact across the state, even catching the attention of those of us who were in grade school at the time. The story was in the newspapers. Adults talked about it. The consensus among many of us was that she didn’t get a fair trial in part because she wasn’t allowed to speak, to tell her story about being continually raped by a prominent white doctor over a six-year time frame.

I mention this trial in Eulalie and Washerwoman because it’s the kind of thing Eulalie, the conjure woman, would have things to say about. I’ve mentioned the case previously on this blog. Today, I decided it was time (probably far past time) to update my website’s In the Spotlight page which I use for announcing new books and commenting about places and events mentioned in the books. So as of today, the spotlight is now “The Case of Ruby McCollum.”

Florida residents and others interested in civil rights history should find this subject fascinating, angering, and sad.

–Malcolm

Eulalie and Washerwoman is the second book in my “Florida Folk Magic Series”