Thanks for showing up

This weird, chaotic blog averages between 50 and 80 visits a day. Then out of nowhere, 150 people show up. I seldom know why because my posts on those higher-traffic days aren’t about hot, nationally trending issues.

But, whatever draws you here, thanks for showing up.

I’m spending more time on my novel in progress these days. My muse must have decided I’m serious about it.

I still don’t know where it’s going. I never know. I don’t know what I’m going to write until I open the file.

For example, some days ago, one character killed a cop. I thought, “hmm, that’s unexpected.” Then, in a later scene, I found out why. She had a good reason, as it turns out. I’m not making this up. When I write, I experience the evolving story the way a reader would experience it. Gurus say I should know how a novel or short story ends when I start work on it. Fooey, that would ruin all the fun of going along for the ride.

As if you can’t tell, my posts are written the same way.

I had no idea I was going to write about a dead cop who was also a member of the KKK. The story is set in 1955 when Elvis was singing “That’s All Right.” If the novel were set in the present day, I wouldn’t include a dead cop because there are too many dead cops and rogue cops in the news. The main purpose of this series of novels is my focus on the Klan. Growing up, I hated them with a passion and always wondered how many of my friends’ fathers were members.

I hope I never find out.

At any rate, you’re here reading these thoughts while (probably) wondering if I’m borderline insane.  Yeah, that’s likely, but it’s a Godsend for a magical realism author.

–Malcolm

When I worked for the Illinois department of mental health and was working my way up through the ranks, somebody asked me what my ultimate goal was. “To become a patient,” I replied. It took longer to happen than I expected.

This “boxed set” includes all four novels in one Kindle volume, a savings over buying them separately. However, you can also find them in hardcover, paperback, and audiobook.

Sunday’s mixed bag of stuff

  • Rainy and wet today here in Northwest Georgia. Robbie, our indoor/outdoor kitty is inside. He must know that heavier rain is coming. All in all, a good day to stay inside and work on the next novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series set in Tallahassee and a fictional town near the Apalachicola River. Perhaps there’ll even be something fun to watch on TV tonight like, hmm, another episode of “Swamp People” on the History Channel.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel The Passenger. It’s different from such classics as Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, but just as powerful and well-written. I agree with Ron Charles’ assessment in The Washington Post that, “McCarthy has assembled all the chilling ingredients of a locked-room mystery. But he leaps outside the boundaries of that antique form, just as he reworked the apocalypse in The Road… Western knows he’s suspected of something, but he’s not told what. The two men who repeatedly question him never drop their formal politeness—never flash a bolt gun like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men—but Western knows that his life is in danger and that he must run… The style—a mingling of profound contemplation and rapid-fire dialogue, always without quotation marks and often without attribution—is pure McCarthy.” I haven’t bought Stella Maris, the companion novel yet, but I will.
  • The Guardian story about the police murder in Memphis is headlined: “Tyre Nichols’s death after police encounter was ‘failing of basic humanity’, says Memphis chief.” The newspaper notes that there were 1,176 “police-involved” killings in 2022. The daily news routinely includes a police atrocity like this or a mass shooting by some thug from the community. Many newspapers and commentators say that inflation or possibly problems at the U.S./Mexico border are the country’s top news stories. They’re wrong, I think. Violence ought to be at the top of the list.
  • No, I don’t plan to watch the upcoming Super Bowl Game. I haven’t cared for years, though if the Atlanta Falcons were playing, I might watch. I tend to watch college football, especially if the Florida State University Seminoles are playing. They had a decent season, though not as good as the University of Georgia’s Dawgs, a team I only root for when they’re playing the University of Florida Gators.
  • Okay, I’m still addicted to Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books and have three on order to read before getting to Stella Maris. I hope all of you are reading quality books these days.

–Malcolm

All four novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series are available in one Kindle volume, a nice savings.

Fort Caroline and ‘The Flamingo Feather’

“Fort Caroline was an attempted French colonial settlement in Florida, located on the banks of the St. Johns River in present-day Duval County. It was established under the leadership of René Goulaine de Laudonnière on 22 June 1564, following King Charles IX’s enlisting of Jean Ribault and his Huguenot settlers to stake a claim in French Florida ahead of Spain. The French colony came into conflict with the Spanish, who established St. Augustine in September 1565, and Fort Caroline was sacked by Spanish troops under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on 20 September. The Spanish continued to occupy the site as San Mateo until 1569.” – Wikipedia

When we moved to Tallahassee in time for me to start the first grade, the family took multiple short trips around Florida to learn about “our new state,” among them a trip to Fort Caroline. I was disappointed that the Fort was no longer there; just a memorial on or near the site where Laudonnière’s expedition probably landed.

The trip was still worthwhile, especially to me because I’d read about the French/Spanish conflict in a juvenile-level historical novel called The Flamingo Feather that was written by Kirk Munroe written in 1887. I checked the book out of my grade school or junior high school library and found it fascinating and filled with action. (I sided with the French, by the way.) In many ways, this was my introduction to the concept of the historical novel, especially one that teaches a subject about which we learned very little in school.

If the “look inside” feature on Amazon is accurate, the book appears to be set in a small type; it also comes with a boring cover and appears to be missing the original illustrations. There is no description saying what the novel is about. Where that description would normally appear; we find this:

“This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work. As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.”

You can read the book free on at Lit2Go where it’s described briefly: “When Rene De Veaux’s parents die he goes to live with his uncle, who happens to be setting out on an exploration of the new world.” The book is also available on Project Gutenberg where you can read it online (with illustrations) or download it as a Kindle or EPUB file.

I’m biased in favor of the book since it’s one of the first novels I read. It’s a good story even though today’s readers will find the style and approach rather archaic.

–Malcolm

Earphones Winner from Audio File magazine.

Malcolm R. Campbell writes magical realism novels set in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s.

The shootings of the day

Gun violence is a contemporary global human rights issue. Gun-related violence threatens our most fundamental human right, the right to life.

Gun violence is a daily tragedy affecting the lives of individuals around the world. More than 500 people die every day because of violence committed with firearms.

Anyone can be affected by firearm violence but in certain situations gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of colour, women and other marginalized groups in society. – Amnesty International

You can track shootings by type and location at the Gun Violence Archive. The information here is updated daily and includes cumulative data throughout the year. All of the information here is disturbing, especially the listing for what’s happened during the last 72 hours. I appreciate the work of this group, though I find it sad that we need this group. Yet, according to Amnesty International, “There are 8 million new small arms and up to 15 billion rounds of ammunition produced each year.”

Personally, I’m tired of hearing that if we restrict gun ownership and the right to carry guns, only criminals will have guns. And yet, most of the mass shootings appear to be caused by individuals considered non-criminals prior to the shootings.

The problem has a lot of socio-economic overlays, but it’s generally believed that the precipitating factor is easy access to legal and illegal guns.

What surprises me is the fact that we–as a nation–put up with it. I suppose we’re burying our heads in the sand with the viewpoint that if the violence doesn’t kill us or people we know then it’s not our problem. And yet, it is, because the failure to enact legislation that will put a dent in gun violence is allowing it to happen. In that regard, most of us are at fault.

–Malcolm

Writers need to pace themselves (or else)

I try to write 100 words a day come hell or high water.

If I were to write more words, my writing career would be compromised. Why? I wouldn’t be pacing myself. I’d be like an old Chevy racing at Daytona and that would mean the engine would soon be toast. Well, not actual toast, but you know what I mean. A blown engine in a Chevy is a bad thing. A worse thing is a blown engine in oneself that happens if you work harder than you should. I’m very superstitious and so I won’t tempt fate by writing 101 words.

I did NaNoWriMo some years ago. I wrote all the words I needed but was a nervous wreck, fast-tracked to boot hill. After doing it, I wondered just what was the rush anyhow. If you take years to complete a novel you have years in which you can hope that reviewers and readers will love it, somebody will nominate it for a Pulitzer Prize, and the movie will bring in $100000000 and a truckload of glamorous movie stars.

If you don’t pace yourself, the book will come out sooner, and all the hope you could have had by writing slowly is suddenly toast. Not actual toast, but you know what I mean. Nobody reads the book and those who don’t read it refuse to write loving but fictitious reviews that say the novel is the best thing since sliced bread.

Another problem with writing too fast is discovering 50,000 words into the book that you’ve written past what your muse told you to write. Now your book–and probably you–is stuck in an Area 51 status which, as we have seen, brings the Feds to your house, and let me clue you in that in these woke times, they’re no longer whistling Dixie. They (the Feds) have hard questions like “when did you realize the novel you were writing was being beamed down from the mother ship?”

You better not respond by saying you just thought your muse had been drinking too much Jolt Cola. Truth be told, a lot of writers drink too way too much Jolt Cola because they think anonymity might be gaining on them. And they’re right because excessive use of Jolt Cola causes them to write really bad stuff like, “I’ve kissed a prince, Mom. I hope it doesn’t turn into a frog.”

Suffice it to say, writers should never exceed the posted speed limit because the grammar police are always hiding behind billboards for Rice Krispies and other innocent products waiting to pull over anyone who seems to be powered by Jolt Cola, a mother ship, delusions of grandeur, or bad writing advice from the dark web.

If you pace yourself, you’ll always be in the clear. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it until I hear a more expedient story.

–Malcolm

My only NaNoWriMo book was “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” (now titled “Investigative Reporter”) and the AudioFile Magazine reviewer said, “a vehicle for sex, cigarettes, steak, and zinfandel.” All good, but it sounds like a review for “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

What Happens Here Can Only Happen Here

“A particular place in the land is never, for an oral culture, just a passive or inert setting for the human events that occur there. It is an active participant in those occurrences. Indeed, by virtue of its underlying and enveloping presence, the place may even be felt to be the source, the primary power that expresses itself through the various events that unfold there.” – David Abram

The modern world often obscures the importance and influence of a place because in knowing about the events of many places at the same time via news and social media, we often focus on similarities while ignoring the differences. It’s human nature, I think, to look for common themes and even to copy those we like best leading, among other things, to build the same stores and restaurants across the country because they are profitable by virtue of being known as well as a comfort to both the residents and those traveling through town. Homogenizing everything we can not only destroys local culture and exciting differences but makes for a very sterile way of life by trying to translate the culture of another place into our place where that culture is unnatural.

(I digress when I say that I don’t like this practice, especially when traveling and finding mostly chain restaurants dominating the scene to the detriment of local culture and local restaurants. I can’t imagine visiting New Orleans, for example, and only eating the same fast food I eat at home.)

If you read and/or write magical realism, you know already the importance of the place where a real event or fictional story is set, and in knowing, that one understands how the place helps shape the events that happen there. Those events cannot happen anywhere else–no matter how much people might try to copy them–because they depend on the place’s history, culture, geography, and other factors that are unique. One tries through his/her writing to communicate this to the reader subconsciously rather than overtly. You can’t say “The swamp didn’t like Jim.” But when Jim goes into the swamp in your story, you can give the impression that this is true–or that Jim is scared of the swamp and acts differently than he would act if he weren’t scared of it.

It’s hard not to think of the exchange between Luke Skywalker and Yoda, when Luke asks (about the swamp), “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”

This is true everywhere even though most people won’t acknowledge it.

In looking for similarities between shootings and other crimes, commentators are quick to compare a crime in one place with a crime in another place. They often refer to these as “copycat shootings.” But that can’t be true even if the second perpetrator was aware of the first and wanted to duplicate it. He/she lives in a different environment–the Great Plains as opposed to, say, the Everglades–and part of his/her motivation is copying, a factor that wasn’t involved with the first crime.

Focusing on the real or imagined copycat nature of an event will usually lead investigators astray. Storytellers know this and honor the influence of the place on what happens in that place rather than the extraneous fact that similar events might have happened somewhere else. In magical realism, we understand that what happens here can only happen here.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series. This Kindle set includes all four novels in the series.

Remembering ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas’ by Jules Verne

In All the Light We Cannot See, the blind French girl Marie-Laure Leblanc is reading the novel in braille, sometimes alone, sometimes to her uncle, and sometimes into the microphone of an old short-wave radio transmitter. Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus become an important motif in the book. For me, the inclusion of Jules Verne’s story was a bit haunting since the novel, and even the Disney movie adaptation released in 1954, was one of my favorite novels. In fact, I think I ended up reading most of Jules Verne’s work.

I knew the story first from the film because, in 1954, I wasn’t capable of reading a Jules Verne book. That’s just as well inasmuch as the first English translations were a mess.

A friend of mine in grade school also loved the movie, so much that we ended up building a miniature Nautilus in his basement where we gave “tours” of various voyages to adults willing to pay five or ten cents depending on the length of the voyage.

I loved the accuracy of short-wave radio scenes in All the Light We Cannot See because I was once a ham radio operator. I built my own transmitter and used a 1940s-era short-wave receiver. It was always fun late at night, talking to people around the world as well as listening to commercial broadcasts originating thousands of miles away. In those days, DXing was popular and we prided ourselves in identifying commercial broadcasts, telling the stations what we heard, and getting a postcard by mail that verified we had heard the station on the date and time we said we did. I finally gave away that old SuperPro short-wave receiver a few years ago to a ham radio operator who was likely to repair it and get it working again.

Best I can tell, the current version of Jules Verne’s novel offered on Amazon might well be the best English translation yet. My feeling is that it’s a lot more accurate than earlier English translations. I know the story only too well because I have lived with it, one way or another, for almost seventy years.

–Malcolm

Jules Verne led me into a long-time interest in science fiction novels which ultimately moved into contemporary fantasy. I write now because of him.

‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight’ by Thom Hartmann

This book had a huge impact on me when it first appeared in 1998. With the exception of a few reviewers’ opinions that the concept really wasn’t new, most of those who read it were excited about the book and the clarity with which it explained that the fossil fuels we’re using now contain the energy of sunlight that plants captured eons ago, long buried in the form of coal and other fossil fuels.

As Hartmann wrote, “In a very real sense, we’re all made out of sunlight. Sunlight radiating heat, visible light, and ultraviolet light is the source of virtually all life on Earth. Everything you see alive around you is there because a plant somewhere was able to capture sunlight and store it.” This reminded me of George Wald’s statement that we carry the stuff of ancient stars within our physical selves.

I enjoyed the book, stuck it on a shelf somewhere, and ultimately forgot about it until two kids listening to a shortwave radio program in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light we Cannot See heard a lecture about the subject of sunlight hidden in fossil fuels. He doesn’t credit Hartmann, so the concept of ancient sunlight has perhaps become so common that we no longer think of it as new or from the writing output of one man twenty-five years ago.

The book was updated in 2004 with an afterword by Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God).

From the Publisher

While everything appears to be collapsing around us – ecodamage, genetic engineering, virulent diseases, the end of cheap oil, water shortages, global famine, wars – we can still do something about it and create a world that will work for us and for our children’s children. The inspiration for Leonardo DiCaprio’s feature documentary movie The Eleventh Hour and soon to be released HBO special Ice on FireLast Hours of Ancient Sunlight details what is happening to our planet, the reasons for our culture’s blind behavior, and how we can fix the problem. Thom Hartmann’s comprehensive book is one of the fundamental handbooks of the environmental activist movement. Now with fresh, updated material on our Earth’s rapid climate change and a focus on political activism and its effect on corporate behavior, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight helps us understand – and heal – our relationship to the world, to each other, and to our natural resources.

The concepts in the book are still valid and probably more urgent than they were when the book first appeared.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell, a conservationist, and a former mountain climber is the author of paranormal, contemporary fantasy, and magical realism novels and short stories.

Re-reading ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr

Okay, I finished reading Micky Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly–which ended with a lot of people getting killed–and am now re-reading Anthony Doerr’s book while waiting for my Cormac McCarthy book to arrive. Quite a change of pace moving from rough and tumble private eye stuff to this beautifully written Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

While I enjoy re-reading books, I would prefer reading factory-fresh new books, though neither my budget nor the space in our small house will support the arrival of two or three new books per week. So, like a lot of you (perhaps), I spend more time re-reading than first-time reading.

As an author, I spend time writing, though oddly enough, I write better when the little grey cells (as detective Poirot always said of his brain) are engaged in an interesting book. The books I read are nothing like the books I write; that means I never have to worry about inadvertent plagiarism. As far as I know, nobody writes like me, so I can’t even accidentally borrow another author’s plots or dialogue.

Doerr has a few blurbs about this book on his website including the comment by “Vanity Fair” that ““Anthony Doerr again takes language beyond mortal limits.” We would all like reviews like that. Sadly, books written by small press authors are never seen by reviewers who write comments like that. We are more or less anonymous and invisible, the upside being that few writers are likely to “borrow” plots and dialogue from our books.

Like most authors, I read better than I write. All The Light We Cannot See is a gem, the kind of work I feel fortunate to have on my shelf to I have something to do at an age when, as some bad writer once said, my get up and go as got up and went.

How about you? Do you find yourself reading cereal boxes or re-reading old stuff on your bookshelf more often than reading something new?

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories. 

A readers’ advisory for this collection of nine stories forecasts widely scattered ghosts with a chance of rain. Caution is urged at the following uncertain places: an abandoned mental hospital, the woods behind a pleasant subdivision, a small fishing village, a mountain lake, a long-closed theater undergoing restoration, a feared bridge over a swampy river, a historic district street at dusk, the bedroom of a girl who waited until the last minute to write her book report from an allegedly dead author, and the woods near a conjure woman’s house.

In effect from the words “light of the harvest moon was brilliant” until the last phrase “forever rest in peace,” this advisory includes—but may not be limited to—the Florida Panhandle, northwest Montana, central Illinois, and eastern Missouri.

Briefly Noted: ‘Kiss Me, Deadly’ by Micky Spillane

Mike Hammer, Spillane’s private investigator, is perhaps the world’s most hardboiled detective. The critics and even his own editors cringed at Spillane’s work since Hammer was almost as big a thug as those he hunted down. The cover of this book is typical of those on the Mike Hammer novels.  But it’s accurate inasmuch as every woman Mike meets wants to sleep with him. Until my brother, Barry slipped a three-novel volume of Spillane novels in with this year’s Christmas gifts, I’d never read a Spillane novel even though I do like noir. I think Mike Hammer is too rough for noir, though one could debate either side of that point.

From The Publisher

“Mike Hammer gives a lift to a beauty on the run from a sanitarium—but their joyride is cut short by two dark sedans full of professional killers, who knock the detective out cold. When he wakes up, his car has been rolled off a cliff, with his mysterious passenger still inside it. The feds take his gun away on suspicion, but Hammer’s not about to let that stop him. He’s on the hunt for the men who wrecked his ride and killed a dame in cold blood—and he’s going to teach them that armed or not, crossing Mike Hammer is the last thing you should ever do.”

The book was made into a film by the same name in 1955 starring  Ralph Meeker as Hammer. According to Wikipedia, “Critics have generally viewed the film as a metaphor for the paranoia and fear of nuclear war that prevailed during the Cold War era. “The great whatsit,” as Velda [Mike’s assistant] refers to the object of Hammer’s quest, turns out to be a mysterious valise, hot to the touch because of the dangerous, glowing substance it contains, a metaphor for the atomic bomb. The film has been described as “the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time – at the close of the classic noir period.” A leftist at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, Bezzerides denied any conscious intention for this metaphor in his script, saying that “I was having fun with it. I wanted to make every scene, every character, interesting.”

Once I finish this three-novel volume–which includes Kiss Me, Deadly–I don’t have any plans to read any of the other stories in this twenty-six-book series. I’m glad I read the novels in this three-novel book because I’d always wondered about Mike Hammer. Now I know. Finding out was part of my education.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories. “Sarabande” is the sequel to “The Sun Singer. Both novels are set in Glacier National Park.