I’m so old, my secret crushes are dying off

My wife smiled when she told me twelve years ago when Suzanne Pleshette died that I need to find a fresh group of Hollywood actresses to fantasize about. At the time, I said, “Well, Millie Perkins is still around.” “Yes, but she’s older than you,” said my wife.

When Shirley Maclaine appeared on episodes of Downton Abbey, I had to acknowledge–even to myself–that she was no longer Fran Kubelik from my favorite movie “The Apartment” (1960).

I identify with the film’s C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) because he’s the poor schmuck who’s always lending his apartment to the bigwigs at his company to facilitate their liaisons with women while he never “gets the girl.”

When I first saw “The Apartment,” I imagined that I’d be driving along a lonely road in my 1954 Chevy when what should I see, but a broken-down Rolls Royce Silver Cloud with Shirley alone in the back seat while her driver went in search of help but had been eaten by alligators when he cut across a swamp. (Damn fool.)

When I open the door, she says, “Oh, my love, my darling I’ve hungered for your touch, a long lonely time. . .”

“That song hasn’t been released yet,” I say.

“I get an AAC, and Advanced Actress Copy,” she says, demurely.

“If so, you should have told Hy Zaret that he screwed up the lyrics,” I said.

“How so?”

That first line should have said “Oh, my love, my darling love, I’ve hungered for your touch.'”

“When you’re right, you’re right, lyrics-wise and Everly Brothers-wise,” she says. “You can take me away from all this, can’t you?”

“All what?”

“The swamp, the alligators, the car, the long lonely time since Fran Kubelik shuffled the cards at the end of ‘The Apartment’ and told C. C. Baxter to shut up and deal. Are you ready to deal, Malcolm?”

I never get to answer because that’s when Mother wakes me up and says, “It’s time to run your paper route.”

Malcolm

 

Anniversary of the unconscionable acts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki

“A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.” – John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” The New Yorker, August 24, 1946

Today marks the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima when planes from the 393d Bombardment Squadron of B-29 aircraft participating in Operation Centerboard, including the Enola Gay with a 9,000-pound uranium-235 atomic bomb named Little Boy, flew to Japan on August 6, 1945, and killed  140,000 people.  Intended for a bridge, the bomb was caught in a crosswind and detonated over a clinic.

This is not the kind of anniversary one celebrates any more than the August 9th bombing of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people, or the prior firebombing of Dresden in four raids by British and U.S. bombers in April 1945, killing 21,000 people and creating up to 200,000 refugees.

All of these controversial bombings have been debated by many panels, hearings, and books, including Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (Dresden) and  John Hersey’s 1946 non-fiction Hiroshima which grew out of the New Yorker article. Hersey had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1944 novel A Bell for Adano.

President Truman argued that the bombs saved lives; be believed more people would die if the U.S. invaded Japan instead. Even if his prediction of 500,000 American and Japanese deaths in an invasion was reasonably accurate, I consider our attacks to be war crimes.

Why? As we remember both immediate deaths and the long-term radiation poisoning from those horrible days in August, let’s also remember that we broke a “rule” of war–the intentional killing of civilians in our version of Nazi Germany’s London Blitz.

–Malcolm

 

As ugly as homemade sin

Okay, I stole that heading from a Pat Conroy book. One could spend a lifetime writing posts based on phrases like that out of his books. I like phrases like that because I like catching readers unaware–the flip side of relying on clichés.

All in all, I don’t think homemade sin is as popular as it used to be. In part, it takes more time than factory fresh sin. And, like those clothes people used to make from patterns or the cakes some people still make from scratch, homemade now seems to cost more than storebought.

Being pragmatic about my use of time, I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of quality for easier living. Why make a pie crust when people can’t tell the difference between the one you made and the Pillsbury pie crusts next to the eggs and butter at the grocery store?

Unfortunately, most people won’t admit to practicing homemade sin, so it’s hard to compare its costs with the kind of sin that comes out of a can. Plus, a lot of people gave it up for the same reason people gave up homespun clothes–they got looked down on. Then, too, I think the sin consensus is that if it (the sin) can’t be mass-produced, it’s really something we don’t want to talk about, much less advertise on TV or display in a store window.

Frankly, I think sin–including so-called “original sin” is an invention of the church because–without it–we wouldn’t need the church. But that subject’s a whole nother post other than to note that whether you’re a church or a factory, sin is damn good business.

If you’ve read a lot of Pat Conroy’s books, you’ll not only find strong plots and lyrical prose but a fair number of real or imagined Southern expressions.  I grew up in the South, so I’ve heard some of the most twisted, profane, ludicrous, and humorous expressions folks can make up. Those that haven’t turned into clichés, I love to see in novels because they wonderfully define a character–the kind who would say such things vs. the kind that wouldn’t. Of course, the Navy has always been a fine source for beautiful profanity and other phrases most of us didn’t share with our families when we came on on leave.

And when it comes down to it, so-called sin makes better feature films and novels than everyday people being good. All you need is a little homemade sin to stir up the plot a little bit or–if you’re lucky–bring down an empire.

–Malcolm

Satire and sin. It doesn’t get much better than that in a story about an old fashioned reporter stuck in the modern age.

At least he died with his boots on.

Any writer who starts to write “At least he died with his boots on” has got to know it’s an old cliché and doesn’t belong in his/her story unless s/he is writing a spoof. Assuming it’s not a spoof and assuming it’s important to say something that begins with the words “At least,” the author needs to take a breath and come up with something new to say.

And no, it’s not “At least he died doing what he loved” or “At least he took out ten bad guys with him.” I’m pretty sure “At least he died with his pants down” isn’t going to work either because that’s not new either.

Maybe it’s best not to have a character say, “At least he died. . .” like anything that smacks of that old cliché can possibly excuse or minimize what happened.

Moments ago, I came across the following: “The .44 was crap for long-range shooting, but Ramon liked. . .”

Where do you think that sentence is going? I knew before I turned the page because such sentences always end with “but Ramon”–or whoever–“liked working up close and personal.” Yawn.

Wikipedia graphic

Now here’s something that’s almost a cliché, though the exact words vary, “Detective Smith walked into the house where he three bodies that all looked like they’d been fed through the wood chipper in ‘Fargo.'” No, that’s not the cliché even though it sounds like one. What detective Smith actually said to his partner, Detective Jones, was “Jones, this looks like a home invasion gone bad.”

I’m really tired of that line. In the first place, it makes no sense. How can a home invasion go bad when it’s already bad from the beginning? Okay okay, maybe the invaders didn’t expect the homeowners to be waiting in the front hall with enough AK-47s to sink a battleship. Hmm, I think I’ve read that line before. Anyhow, so instead of killing the homeowners and grabbing the priceless Picasso (the painting, not the artist) off the wall, the invaders get smoked. Right, we’ve seen the word “smoked” before in this context.

Once upon a time, a reviewer (who wrote a wonderful review of one of my books) said, “I was just about to ding Campbell for using an ancient cliché when he said, ‘She shook loose her long hair…’ but I can’t because he took a sharp turn here and wrote ‘that mixed with the stuff of clouds.'” There are a million clichés that begin with a woman shaking loose her hair. I don’t know why they’re always going that. But if they have to do it in your book, they don’t have to do it in the same old way we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Fresh and knew just isn’t that hard to say.  So if you really need to say, “At least he died with,” then forget the boots and doing what he loved, and say “at least he died with a raspberry popsicle in his mouth” or “with a spare coral snake in his back pocket.”

See, those lines sound factory fresh and I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen either of them before.

Malcolm

Click on my name to check out my Amazon page.

‘Thank you for flying SpaceX’

NASA photo

Yes, I watched the splashdown of the SpaceX mission capsule Endevour returning from the International Space Station. What a historic mission, one that seemed to be flawless.

It’s the first ocean splashdown since the Apollo era of the 1970s, the first U.S. crewed ship to visit the space station since the shuttle program ended, and the first private enterprise mission.

I watched most of the early space flight liftoffs and splashdowns on TV–Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and all the shuttle liftoffs and landings.

As StarTrek put it, space is the final frontier (as far as we know). Watching the SpaceX flight, I felt a lot of nostalgia for the earlier flights and my Cape Kennedy visits to the NASA facility. Now we won’t have to pay Moscow $90 million per seat when our astronauts ride to the space station on a Soyuz. I also felt that someday soon, space may become more accessible to humans (as opposed to all the satellites clogging up the skies overhead).

My friends never understood why I took risks to climb mountains, especially Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. I don’t understand why anyone would want to sit in a space capsule being launched by the Saturn V. But I’m glad they do because exploration is a large part of who we are and a fair amount of bravery is required.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s new novel “Fate’s Arrows” should be available by the end of the year. The novel will become part 4 of the “Florida Folk Magic Series” that began in 2015 with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Remembering two of the best: Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

George Simon Kaufman (November 16, 1889 – June 2, 1961) was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals for the Marx Brothers and others. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the musical Of Thee I Sing (with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin) in 1932, and won again in 1937 for the play You Can’t Take It with You (with Moss Hart). He also won the Tony Award for Best Director in 1951 for the musical Guys and Dolls. – Wikipedia

After working several years as a director of amateur theatrical groups and an entertainment director at summer resorts, he scored his first Broadway hit with Once in a Lifetime (1930), a farce about the arrival of the sound era in Hollywood. The play was written in collaboration with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman, who regularly wrote with others, notably Marc Connelly and Edna Ferber. (Kaufman also performed in the play’s original Broadway cast in the role of a frustrated playwright hired by Hollywood.) During the next decade, Kaufman and Hart teamed on a string of successes, including You Can’t Take It with You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Though Kaufman had hits with others, Hart is generally conceded to be his most important collaborator. – Wikipedia

As my wife and I watched Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take it With You,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Kaufman and Hart, I thought back to how insular we were before the Internet and Satellite TV networks. Now we can watch all the old movies and research where they came from.

Growing up, I knew nothing of Kaufman and Hart even though they “owned” broadway for years and had worked on projects from the Marx brothers comedies to Camelot. I happened to hear of them in 1961, the same year they both died.

I went to a high school journalism institute at Indiana University in 1961, and one of our special trips was to the famous Brown County Playhouse, owned at the time by a foundation association with IU. On stage, that night was “Light Up the Sky” by Kaufman and Hart. What a hoot. And I wondered then, just who are these people that can write such wonderful (and humorous) dialog?

When I got home, I raced out and bought a copy of Hart’s autobiography Act One. For a Florida boy who knew nothing about Broadway and the world of plays, it was an eye-opener. It would be years before channels like Turner Classic Movies came along and allowed me to see the work of Kaufman and Hart. Somehow, it’s had an impact on me, my sense of how writers write, and produce what we go to the theater to enjoy.

Somehow, I have a feeling that in this fast-paced world when the Internet and satellite TV make so much available, that most people have never heard of either of these playwrights. What a shame. For me, learning about them was part of growing up and becoming a writer–and one who can finally enjoy what they wrote.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire “Special Investigative Reporter” which, he hopes, might remind some people of the dialogue of Kaufman and Hart.

 

 

 

 

Hoodoo Curio Catalogues

Hoodoo practitioners, as well as the general public, found supplies in so-called Curio Catalogues during the mid-1900s. Since none of the potions, spells, talismans, mojo bags, candles, powders, and herbs could be officially sold by advertising what they were used for in hoodoo, they were sold as curios. Let us say, just-for-fun curiosities.

These are a good source for people studying hoodoo history because the advertisements in the calatogues provide spells and product names you can further look up in books and online sites.

You can find examples of these catalogues online at sites like The Church of Good LuckLucky Mojo Curio Company (which has a section about hoodoo itself), and by searching under the names of the catalogues themselves, the most widely known being the King Curio Company and the de Laurence Company catalogues. You’ll find examples from the 1930s and 1940s.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of three conjure novels (The Florida Folk Magic Series) which includes “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman, and “Lena.”)

The vicissitudes of blogging

Publishers and publicists often ask authors who their readers are. The one thing you’re not supposed to do is pick a famous author’s book and say, “People who liked Fire Ants in the Birdbath will love my book.” That’s usually considered arrogant.

If a writer is a blogger, s/he is often asked about the blog’s demographics. If it has a niche, then how many people stop by every day? If it’s more general, what subjects get the most readers and comments?

My answer to the first question usually includes Floridians and/or those who like fantasy, magical realism, and paranormal short stories and novels. My answer to the second is “I get the most hits on stuff I’m not writing about now.”

Currently, most of my visitors are looking at blogs that focus on conjure. I wrote a lot of these when my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat first came out. I wrote these because authors are advised to blog about themes and subject matter from their novels rather than promoting the novels over and over again.

People are searching and reading about graveyard dirt. Makes me wonder if there’s a graveyard dirt scandal going on and folks are looking it up.

When I was writing the conjure posts, they didn’t get as many hits as silly posts, satirical posts, occasional rants, or posts about things going on in my life. Now that I’m writing posts about other subjects–some about my life, some about writing and publishing–those are getting very few hits compared with the massive number of hits on the conjure posts.

Go figure.

This means when it comes to blogging, I have no idea who my readers are except for people who know me in “real life” or on Facebook.  I suppose I should have called this post “Clueless in Georgia.” I wonder if that title would have attracted people from Georgia. Since I’m clueless, I have no idea.

Malcolm

Occasionally, I write something that isn’t fantasy. Examples are the comical satire “Special Investigative Reporter” and the realistic Vietnam war novel “At Sea.”

 

Briefly Noted: ‘The Outsider’ by Stephen King

Like his Mr. Mercedes trilogy, King’s The Outsider begins as a thriller/police procedural, then falls down the rabbit hole of the supernatural. I wasn’t happy with this in Mr. Mercedes, because after two books of standard police work, I thought changing the genre into a supernatural solution in book three was a mistake. However, in this standalone book, it works.

From the Publisher

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is discovered in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens—Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon have DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying details begin to emerge, King’s story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

The police seem to have Maitland dead to rights, But then more and more lapses in the investigation begin to occur. Mainly, how could Maitland be in two places at the same time? The star of the show is a private detective who specializes in skip tracer, lost dog, and missing persons work at a small agency called Finders Keepers named Holly Gibney. (She appeared in earlier King novels.)

She has seen doppelgänger cases before and is open to multiple solutions that don’t fit the standard police approach. King does a good job of building tension, showing the frustration of the police investigators, and allowing Gibney to slowly orient the investigation toward a supernatural solution.

I enjoyed the book.

–Malcolm

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

 

Small Press Publishing

“Since the profit margins for small presses can be narrow, many are driven by other motives, including the desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market. Many presses are also associated with crowdfunding efforts that help connect authors with readers. Small presses tend to fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. They can focus on regional titles, narrow specializations and niche genres. They can also make up for commercial clout by creating a reputation for academic knowledge, vigorously pursuing prestigious literature prizes and spending more effort nurturing the careers of new authors. At its most minimal, small press production consists of chapbooks. This role can now be taken on by desktop publishing and Web sites. This still leaves a continuum of small press publishing: from specialist periodicals, short runs or print-to-order of low-demand books, to fine art books and limited editions of collectors’ items printed to high standards.” – Wikipedia

Some say that a small press is a publisher with annual sales under $50,000 and/or that publishes ten or fewer titles per year. Jane Friedman notes that they tend to have more flexible contract terms than the giant publishers. Personally, I like small presses because they focus on niche areas, regions, and genres that might make them a better fit for my work than a giant publisher.

While authors often speak favorably of the staff associated with imprints and divisions of large publishers, I think one is more likely to find a family/community atmosphere at a small publisher. In my wrap party post, I mentioned that the late Pat Conroy said of one of his books that his publisher had assigned some 15+ people to get his book out–from editors to book designers to cover artists to publicists.

At a small press, those 15 jobs might be done by several people and, as is true with my publisher Thomas-Jacob, by one person with a little bit of contractor help. This tells you that those who own and manage small presses are working out of a strong passion for their specialty areas–a labor of love that’s similar to a two or three-person bookstore as contrasted with chains or major independents such as Powell’s.

Small Press Listings.

New Pages, a handy writer’s resource, maintains an alphabetized list of small presses here. Some are sponsored or featured and have more extensive writer ups. The New Pages blog is filled with a large assortment of writing opportunities.

Poets & Writers maintains a listing os small presses here. You can sort these by genre and sub-genre.

Bookfox maintains a list of the 30 Best Small and Indie Literary Publishers. This list is annotated.

Powell’s Books, the largest independent book store in the country, has a list of 24 of Our Favorite Small Presses.

I like Powell’s introduction to its small-press list: “Most readers are familiar with the big publishing houses, like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, but there are thousands of independent, smaller presses in the US and abroad committed to publishing diverse and debut voices, unconventional narratives, and works in translation, as well as hosting workshops and community programs. In honor of National Small Press Month, and with no small amount of hand-wringing — there are so many excellent choices — we present 24 of our favorite indie presses.”

I’ve just scratched the surface here about listings and the publishing benefits of small presses. My point is, there are hundreds of opportunities out there for your books if you don’t want to try a so-called BIG NEW YORK PUBLISHER. Big publishers deal in volume, so if you’re sending, say, your second book to one of them, they might expect your first book to have sold 15,000 to 20,000 copies. Some won’t look at your work if they don’t think it can sell 50,000 copies. You need a special kind of writing and a remarkable platform to break into this world.

A small press is much more likely to leave the porch light on for you.

Malcolm