- Blood test this morning. The tech couldn’t find a vein. Ended up sticking both arms looking for blood. Might have been less painful if she’d bit my neck.
- Congratulations to my Thomas-Jacob Publishing colleague Sharon Heath (The Fleur Trilogy) on the release of her new novel Chasing Eve, “a funny, sad, hair-raising adventure into the underbelly of the City of Angels, where society’s invisible people make a difference to themselves and to others, and where love sometimes actually saves the day.”
I usually write fiction in third person restricted. Among other things, that means that basically the entire novel is shown via the point of view of the protagonist. If you use that POV, you know there are dozens of ways of showing the protagonist’s attitude without saying “he thought” or “she thought.” Now that I’ve chosen to write the work in progress with an omniscient narrator POV without showing what anyone (mostly) is thinking, I keep having to delete things I’d normally write. Even something so mundane as Luckily the barking dog finally shut up is out of bounds because somebody has to be thinking that; I’m not going to be an old-fashioned author who intrudes into his stories by commenting on things as they happen. Tentatively, the book is called Dark Arrows.
- Yes, we will be watching Star Trek: Picard starting tonight on CBS All Access. The next-generation series with Patrick Stewart was, I think, the best of the Star Trek programs, so it will be nice to see him again in this ten-episode series. I read that CBS has already ordered more episodes, so perhaps we’ll have at least two seasons to look forward to.
- My blood test results show that the forty days of radiation therapy probably got rid of the prostate cancer. Even though the radiation oncology department thinks “that’s that,” the urology department thinks it’s safe for me to continue the hormone therapy for two years as long as I can dolerate the shots. I said, “Tolerate the shots? Does that mean they don’t kill me.” The answer was, “If you get bad hot flashes, we’ll stop them.” Oh.
Writers who step away from writing often tell me they’ve “moved on.” I want to ask (but I don’t) “moved on to what?”
If one’s chosen career is to be a writer, I’m not sure where a writer goes when s/he moves on. Not that being a writer is sacred. Not that writers don’t get to retire at some point or even try something else.
Writers often say that doing the writing itself is their primary joy. Of course, if writing is a business for them, they can’t pretend that running at a loss every year will pay the rent or buy the groceries. A lot of writers get around his problem by earning an income doing something else, but continuing to write in their spare time.
Most of my writing life I earned a living by writing for computer companies. That’s what paid the rent. I’ve been officially unemployable ever since I was laid off after 9/11 even though the large tech company I worked for said they weren’t going to do that. Unless you’re famous or have a rare skill, it’s hard to find jobs when you’re over 50, which I was. So, I turned my parttime writing into fulltime writing.
Until I’d sold a few books, I told people I was retired. At my age, that was believable. I had no desire whatsoever to buy a motor home and spend my life driving around the country, or fishing, or stamp collecting, or whatever else retired people are supposed to do. Luckily, I found a few nonprofits who needed somebody to write grants, and I did turn out some successful proposals. But fiction was what I wanted to write, so that’s what I’m doing.
I can’t imagine moving on. My father was a successful book reviewer, article writer, and textbook author long after he was forced to retire from university teaching. He was happy doing it and so am I. Maybe psychologists will claim I’m taking after my father. I don’t think so, but is I were, I’d be okay with that.
I don’t think I lead a sheltered life, but every once in awhile I seem to “wake up” and hear about something that’s been in the news for years. I wonder, have I had amnesia, been in a coma, or simply had too much Scotch.
So last night we watched the movie “Catch Me if You Can” about a check forger (Leonardo DiCaprio) being chased (sort of like the movie “The Fugitive”) by an FBI agent (Tom Hanks) that came out in 2002. It’s based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. who wrote a book about his experiences in 1980 after having appeared on the quiz show “To Tell the Truth” three years earlier.
According to the movie, Abagnale was so good at forgery, he ultimately worked for the FBI in a check fraud unit and designed anti-fraud procedures used in today’s banking system. The movie kept our attention even though I was a little preoccupied about how this story could have been in the national consciousness for some 43 years without my being aware of it.
Sometimes I feel like one of those people in a TV movie who’s been in a coma for 25 years and wakes up to find the world has completely changed. Yet, I have supposedly been awake between 1977 and 2002 and logic tells me I should have been aware of at some bits and pieces of this story.
Either that or the movie studio spent a lot of money just to play a practical joke on me.
Consider this paragraph from a well-known novel:
“It rained for eight days without taking a breath. No dank December drizzle this, but rain with attitude. The rogue progeny of some sweet-named Caribbean hurricane had come north, liked it and stayed. Rivers in the Midwest burst their banks and the TV news was awash with images of people crouched on rooftops and the bloated bodies of cattle twirling like abandoned airbeds in swimming-pool fields. In Missouri a family of five drowned in their car while waiting in line at McDonald’s and the President flew in and declared it a disaster, as some on the rooftops had already guessed.”
Do you recognize the passage? If so, you have a good memory. If not, it’s because it’s not usually one of those excerpts that reviewers and sites like GoodReads quote from the novel.
I noticed this paragraph recently because I’m re-reading the book. I smiled as I read it because it’s the kind of thing I would write for a satirical novel or blog post. Bits and pieces of it could even fit in a comedian’s stand-up comedy routine. For satire and/or dark humor, the paragraph is slick, well-written, and filled with sadistic puns and groaner double entendres.
However, the paragraph appears in a book listed as a psychological thriller that focuses on love, loss, family, and coming to grips with massive change. That being the case, I think the author should have cut this graph from the novel and saved it for another book because outside of comedy or satire, this is over the top:
- taking a breath
- rain with attitude
- liked it and stayed
- news was awash with images
- abandoned airbeds
- And then we end with the family drowning in a line at McDonald’s followed by the President declaring it (the flood or the McDonalds?) a disaster area
The passage gets “worse and worse” the farther it goes and becomes really dark with the Missouri family/disaster area juxtapositioning.
I believe most critics and writing professors would classify all this as “too much” in a mainstream novel. In context, the passage seems out of place at the beginning of a subsection in which a young girl is in a coma while her parents wonder if she’ll survive. Perhaps the novelist saw this as a transitional, “adding insult-to-injury” kind of paragraph. Or maybe he liked the contrast between the slick weather description and the horror of the girl supported by machines, tubes, and sensors.
In general, what do you think?
Does your opinion change one way or the other when I tell you this excerpt came from The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans?
Writers are advised to kill their darlings. I wish Evans had pulled the trigger or put these words into a drawer for later use.
My eight novels and numerous short stories fit into the genres of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, and satire. Other than the Special Investigative Reporter, my storytelling focuses on magic.
Junction City, TX, January 18, 2020, Star-Gazer News Service–Joyce Carlton admits she made a mistake when she sought help from her neighbors when she needed a Maytag 6.0 CU. PT. extra-large capacity top load agitator washing machine for $1,399.
“I got mixed up and told all my friends I was starting a crow funding event to raise the money and needed to know how to do it because I’m not Internet savvy,” Carlton said. “The response was tepid, presumably because a lot of people don’t like crows.”
According to Carlton’s husband, Bill, the 12-year-old kid, “what’s his face,” next door took pity on her and not only told her the correct term was “crowdfunding,” but showed her how to set up the event and announce it via e-mail and Facebook.
“Joyce said, ‘Don’t tell anybody this, honey, but I feel like a real ninny having all my Facebook friends thinking I was raising money to support crows,'” Bill Carlton told reporters after the house was covered with instructive graffiti such as, “Need a washing machine, get a job” and “How many men are you doing laundry for, slut?”
Carlton’s next-door neighbor Wanda James said that she had a heart-to-heart talk with Joyce over three cups of badly made coffee in Joyce’s kitchen.
“I explained that crowdfunding is generally intended as a way to raise money for a favorite charity or for a truly needy family that needs help,” said James. “She told me she was truly needy because she was struggling with an ancient washing machine without all the bells and whistles people need in today’s world.”
Police said they have yet to catch the person or persons who spray-painted graffiti on the white stucco of the Carltons’ house. An informed source, who is not authorized to speak for publication, said that everyone in the neighborhood with an old washing machine is a suspect.
“My daughters sell Girl Scout cookies and Joyce never bought any. My other next-door neighbor’s son sold band candy and Joyce never bought any. The homeowners association held a fundraising drive to help the Sweeneys after their house burnt down, and Joyce and Bill couldn’t spare a dime,” James said.
Joyce and Bill Carlton acknowledged that they were both cheapskates when it came to helping others, but thought that their beautifully appointed lawn–compliments of Hanson’s Lawn Care Service–would show the community that they were entitled to more respect.
“I guess we’re going to be chipping into to every clown who rings our doorbell whining for money for one dirtbag cause or another,” Bill Carlton said.
Surprisingly, black ops novels give me a sense of closure in a world where’s little closure. Another pacifist friend and I discovered that we both watched the TV show “24” because, while “real life” often made us feel powerless in the face of all the issues with seemingly no answers or bad answers, Jack Bauer’s actions on the show brought us a feeling that sometimes bad guys are caught and threats are neutralized.
I feel the same way when I’m reading “Tom Clancy,” James Patterson, and other series in which the good guys see a threat, analyze it, and then put a stop to it. Like Jack Bauer, these good guys operate in groups that are out from under any umbrella of legalities that (as they say) “hampers” black ops.
What bothers me, though, is how cheap life seems to be in these books. If you watched “24” you know there were car chases in which dozens of vehicles (driven by every day innocent people) were shown blowing up, turning over, falling off bridges, etc. in the background. Any police force conducting that kind of chase in “real life” would be on the carpet in minutes. But it “24” those people are collateral damage and (apparently) not so bad a price to play for Bauer catching a notorious bad guy.
While black ops novels seldom have those signature car chases that have been popular in the James Bond movies, a lot of cardboard characters always get blown away with little notice or regret en route to “a more-important goal.”
I’m sure ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see mass numbers of civilian casualties as a sign of success. Fortunately, the good guys in over-the-top novels, movies, and TV shows aren’t trying to create massive civilian casualties. In fact, in these stories, most of the cardboard characters killed are bad guys with no names who stepped ou from behind a building with blazing Kalashnikovs and got taken out by the good guys. No harm, no foul, right?
Perhaps bad guys and good guys really feel this way in “real life,” and by that I mean, operations that fall into the category of black ops rather than war. If so, this bothers me more than the deaths in fiction; with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened.
In “real life,” I’m against black ops, but that doesn’t mean that novels about black ops aren’t serving as addictive painkillers against the insanity of the world.
Malcolm R.. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande.”
“Whatever we believe about how we got to be the extraordinary creatures we are today is far less important than bringing our intellect to bear on how we get together around the world and get out this mess we’ve made. That’s the key thing now. Nevermind how we got to be who we are.” – Jane Goodall
When quotations like this appear on Facebook or in news stories and articles, they get a huge number of LIKES and positive comments. I want to ask, “So, after you clicked LIKE or wrote ‘so true,’ what did you do next?”
Likewise, when people encounter charities and various crowdfunding initiatives that are collecting money for programs that will make a better world, I’m curious what people did after donating their $25 or $50. The same thought comes to mind about what people do after signing petitions that are trying to raise the public’s (or an elected official’s) awareness about a problem.
Many people appear to believe that talking about an issue is the same thing as actively working to “fix” whatever needs to be fixed. Being concerned about something, while commendable, isn’t the same thing as putting your money where your mouth is or putting your brains and brawn where your money is.
Needless to say, some people who donate $50 to one group and sign a petition in support of another group really think they’ve done their bit.
I don’t have a list of the things people ought to be doing, but joining nuts and bolts volunteer groups is one place to begin. Once you join, you’ll see an old truism governs how much gets done: 20% of the members usually do 80% of the work.
In churches, the concept of the tithe usually refers to money. Yet, we can also apply it to time, as in, giving 10% of one’s time toward fixing the mess we’re in. Even though some government officials, corporations, and lobbying groups are giving 100% of their time to make the mess worse, if enough people chipped in enough time to thwart those who are destroying nature and freedom and equality and peace, then we might have a chance of actually fixing something rather than talking about fixing something.
One way or the other, we need to take that first step toward action.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Special Investigative Reporter,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Sarabande,” “Mountain Song,” “At Sea,” and “The Sun Singer.”