Out on a Limb

If you read and enjoyed Richard Powers’ 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory, which I finally got around to and mentioned here in November, then you probably know by now that the Patricia Westerford character in the novel was inspired by British Columbia forest sciences expert Suzanne W. Simard.

Our understanding of soils, roots, and the communication and nutrient sharing of trees is based primarily on Simard’s lifelong work. She’s written papers, given TED talks, and worked as a leader with TerreWeb. Now, with her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (May 2021), she brings her research to the public in a well documented and accessible book that will enhance our understanding of the forest society.

I really don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb when I saw that Finding the Mother Tree will win a Pulitzer Prize.

Considering he impact of forests on our lives, this is an essential book in the world’s library of resources in that it brings groundbreaking scientific studies to a world heretofore posited by mystices, philosophers, and the often-mocked tree huggers.

Excerpt from the Publisher’s Description

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide.

Now, in her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths–that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.

Simard writes–in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways—how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies–and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them.

From the NYT Review

This book is a testament to Simard’s skill as a science communicator. Her research is clearly defined, the steps of her experiments articulated, her astonishing results explained and the implications laid bare: We ignore the complexity of forests at our peril. Simard began her career shy, as many who are called to study nature are. Those who seek solitude in mountains and under the shadows of pines often do not wish to command a room. She published her results and spoke at conferences, but did not often directly engage her detractors, the policy silverbacks who ridiculed this young woman and her ideas about trees cooperating rather than competing. – New York Times.

If you love forests, this book is a joy to read and, I would say, gospel.


Can you make a bad movie better?

Gigliposter.jpgWriting coaches and writers’ magazines often provide writing prompts to help people practice their craft. A writing teacher of mine had a different approach. Whenever he saw a “bad” movie, he had fun figuring out how make it better. While the probably stayed within the realm of the plot and the dialogue, my Radio/TV undergraduate major causes me to include acting and production values.

According to FilmDaft, “The key ingredients that make a movie ‘good’ are when the acting, directing, writing, cinematography, and overall production value all come together to tell one cohesive, entertaining, and impactful story. In essence, a good movie uses all these tools of filmmaking to tell a compelling story that makes you feel.”

True, but that’s a bit general, so when I consider what would make a bad movie better, I usually stick to the writer’s part of it.

Here I think we can say that if the premise and plot structure are flawed, the movie probably will also be flawed even though everyone and his/her brother probably had a hand in the rewrites before the film was finished.

To make this excercise work, we need to stay away from reviewers and critics and the flaws they see and use the flaws we see. Of course, even good movies may have flaws. For example, “Ladyhawke” is one of my favorite films, but I think the music chosen for it is an abomination and that Matthew Broderick’s character was too flip for the time when the film was set.

When a movie is bad, it’s often because it’s predictable, has unlikely plot twists, is based on a faulty premise, or is jokingly unrealistic within the time and place and subject area in which it was set. Doing this exercise as a writer, I think about:

  • How can I make it less predictable?
  • What are the worst plot twists?
  • Can the premise be altered without throwing out the film altogether?

Did you see the 2003 film “Gigli”? It was considered a failure, often due to general disorganization and a clumsy plot. Okay, these are problems a writer can work with while ignoring critics’ complaints that Affleck and Lopez lacked chemistry. So here the excerise becomes fixing the plot.

Never fear, if you play around with this exercise, you don’t have to re-write the script or even come up with a new treatment for the story. Nailing down what you might do to make it better will, I think, help you see how any story can be made workable.


National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

U.S. Attorney’s Office Commemorates National Human Trafficking Awareness Day–January 11, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore.—Today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon commemorates National Human Trafficking Awareness Day—January 11, 2022—and joins its federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement partners in declaring a continued commitment to combating all forms of human trafficking.

“More than 150 years have passed since our nation ratified the 13th Amendment, abolishing the cruel and repugnant practice of enslaving humans. And yet, in its modern form of trafficking, this abhorrent crime persists here in the U.S. and across the globe. Combatting human trafficking is a top priority for the Justice Department and our office. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will do everything in our power to end this horrible crime,” said Scott Erik Asphaug, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

“We are a country built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every person. Unfortunately, it’s a promise that we see broken all too often for the most vulnerable among us,” said Kieran L. Ramsey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Victims of labor trafficking and sex trafficking are not only exploited in the worst ways, they also live in constant fear. They wake every morning to threats of violence and outright abuse. Help us help them. If you have information about trafficking in your area, please call us.”

Human trafficking, sometimes referred to as trafficking in persons or modern slavery, is a serious federal crime involving the exploitation of individuals for labor, services, or commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion. This coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

Victims of human trafficking can be anyone regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, or citizenship status. Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in unsafe or unstable environments, or are in search of a better life.

In the U.S., trafficking victims can be American or foreign citizens. Some of the most vulnerable populations for trafficking in the U.S. include American Indian and Alaska Native communities, LGBTQ individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, temporary guest-workers, and low-income individuals.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon is committed to continuing its victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to detecting hidden human trafficking crimes, holding perpetrators accountable, and helping to restore the lives of survivors, while strengthening strategic anti-trafficking partnerships.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.

If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a trafficking situation, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888 or visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org. You can also text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Every year since 2010, the President has dedicated the month to raising awareness about the different forms of human trafficking and educating people about this crime and how to spot it. To learn more, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/12/30/a-proclamation-on-national-human-trafficking-prevention-month-2022/.

Good electricity or bad electricity?

When a bricks-and-mortar (“real life”) friend or an online friend buys an electric car and leans on me to go and do likewise because that’s good for the environment, I tend to skip the usual questions such as how far can you drive, how fast can you drive, and do you have to map out the locations of charging stations before you go anywhere?

Mustang Mach-E

Since I’m “supposed to buy” an electric car to “do my part” in reducing climate change, my first question is “are you charging up what car with good electicity or bad electricity?”

“But electricity is neutral,” they say. “It has no agenda.”

“Okay,” I respond, “but if I’m to help fight climate change with my electric car, I’m not making much of a dent in the problem if my–let’s call it ‘bad’–electricity comes from fossil fuels, right?”

Some people look like deer in the headlights. “I hope that’s not where my power comes from?”

“Odds are, it is. Look at these statistics: 60% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, that is, petroleum, coal, and natural gas.”

“I thought we were going better,” they say.

“We are, but not better enough. Do you have solar panels on the roof of your house?”


“They might help reduce the amount of bad electricity,” I say.

“They would. Maybe I’ll do that some day.”

I have these conversations all the time when new owners of electric cars suddenly become disciples even though they were driving a gas-hog car the day they saw the light and went all electric, car-wise.  Maybe we need cars with solar panels. Until then, I’m going to want to know where that electricity is coming from.


Lena (Florida Folk Magic Stories Book 3) by [Malcolm R. Campbell]Malcolm R. Campbell writes fantasies, magical realism, satire, and realism though he’s never sure which is which.

Rainy day mix

  • Bergman

    Obituary Blues: My Facebook authors page contains a mix of arts and writing news and reviews. Today there are three obits on it and that’s enough to make one feel the blues strong and steady. Michael Lang, 77, Woodstock co-creator; Director Peter Bogdanovich, 82, “The Last Picture show” and other films; Marilyn Bergman, 93, Oscar-winning lyricist of “The Way We were”; and then, too, on my main news feed, Sidney Portier (“They call me Mr. Tibbs.”)

  • Book cover for WildKristin Hannah:  While the subject of Wild was compelling for anyone interested in psychology, I was disappointed in this early novel, believing that Hannah hadn’t really come into her own in nailing down her style and voice. The feel-good ending falls into the characters’ laps without insufficient foundation and the author discounted her own childhood disabilties specialist by having her look up autism on the Internet. As I said in my Depot Cafe Blog, I think Hannah did this as a means of telling her readers about autism without thinking about the fact that a specialist wouldn’t be looking for onfo online that she would already know.
  • Our 2006 Buick: Ever since the glovebox latch broke off, our challenge has been finding ways to keep the door closed tightly enough to keep the small light inside from draining the battery.  Apparently, one must take the glovebox door off to get the lightbulb out. Had the car on the trickle charger most of yesterday and last night to re-charge the battery. This is becoming a hassle.
  • 711 Ocean Drive Poster.jpg711 Ocean Drive: My wife and I watch a lot of noir movies on TV and this one fit the bill last night. I liked the big shoot-out ending at Hoover Dam (still called Boulder Dam in the film) because I visited the dam when I was young and the scenes in the movie matched my memories of the tour. Apparently, when the film came out, Columbia Pictures said that gangsters were so angry about the film giving away their secrets that the production company had to take out special insurance politices on the primary stars (Edmond O’Brien and Joanne Dru) to keep them safe. The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host said that notion was probably a PR stunt.
  • 2022: I’m not yet convinced this is going to be a good year. The COVID arguments continue and more and more people are saying the U.S. is on the verge of another civil war. That’s rather unsettling. I feel sorry for today’s kids growing up with that idea hanging over their heads along with worrying about whether the schools are going to be open this week.


Malcolm R. Campbel is the author of the mystery/thriller “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” in which a conjure woman fights the KKK in a small Florida town.

What Makes a Story Feel Like a Story?

What’s the difference between a story and a narrative relating a series of events? Once upon a time, dear reader, I might have answered, “Causality.”Because it’s a basic truth I’ve discovered as a book coach and editor: if you have plot that’s basically episodic—this happens, then that, and then this thing over here—the single most effective thing you can do to make it feel like a real story is to introduce the element of causality in revision: this happened, and as a consequence, that happened, which then led to this. – (guest post by Susan DeFreitas.)

Source: What Makes a Story Feel Like a Story? | Jane Friedman

In a story, things happen for a reason. When they don’t, the narrative is often called a slice of life. Some writers specialize in relating a series of events that appear to have no relationship to each other. Some consider this avant-garde and sometimes it is and when it is the puzzle for the reader is finding the meaning in it.

I’ve never been a fan of an author’s random musings when they’re set down on a page and called fiction. DeFreitas suggests you really have a story, as opposed to doodling on a page, when the author includes “the protagonist’s internal issue or problem.” That’s basic, I think–what we learned in English 101 in college.

It’s worth bringing back into our conversations now because so many authors have run so far afield from the central parts of a story that they’ve lost the story. It may be cutting edge something or other, but it doesn’t answer the request, “Tell me a story.”


it all began when the glove box latch busted off

In case you hadn’t noticed, when the latch to your car’s glove comparment breaks, the door won’t close. When that happens, the microscopic light inside the compartment drains the battery over night. I don’t see how that’s possible, but then I’m a writer and make stuff up and have no clue why cars think what they think.

Tape won’t hold the glove box door shut. Neither still twine. It takes high-quality wire out of the miscellaneous wire chaos box in the garage.

However, by now the battery has been jumped so many times it must be about shot because this morning the car wouldn’t start and the glove box door was closed tighter than the lid to a vampire’s casket. My trickle charge indicate the battery was too dead to accept a charge-another one of those things that kind of defeats the reason for having a trickle charge.

This all brings up a sad fact. I’m the only guy in the county who doesn’t know how to fix a car. Everyone else does, though they started having more trouble when all the computer stuff got added. But most of them know how to start a Buick even if they’re Ford people. It’s a good skill to have because you can’t run a farm if you can’t maintain your tractor, riding mower, bob cat, backhoe, air compressor, and anything else with a motor in it.

Growing up, I had a car with a stick shift and knew that as long as I parked it on a hill, I could get it running. Later, when I had a Jeep for a few years and then a Saturn for a few years, they could always get under way on a hill or with a brief push.

I like cars the way they were than the way they are now where it costs $1,000 to get somebody out to your house and start your car when the glove box latch breaks off and the light inside drains your battery. (By the way, that light is in such a small space, I can’t squeeze my fingers in there to get it out.)

Thinking back, I’ve had a negative reaction to most changes to cars: automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, power windows, and a hundred dashboard ikons that are harder to decypher than hieroglyphics. I’d rather see the words up there than silly little pictures. (“Check engine”? Give me a break, check it for what?)

Okay, well just maybe I like the backup camera that shows you whether your rolling over your child’s favorite toy. Otherwise, all the new stuff costs a lot of money to buy and a lot to fix when it breaks. And it will break. Nobody will know that’s broken because all they’ll see on the dashboard display is something that looks like it came out of an old alien invaders game.

It may be time for a new car which will have to be an SUV because the sedans have gone away. At least an SUV has enough room in the back for a generator to start the thing when the light in the glove box drains the battery.


An assortment of news, &c.

  • The audiobook edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat continues to be my top selling novel right now. Thanks to those of you who have listened to it and/or read the paperback or Kindle editions which seem to be in second place, saleswise. Naturally, I hope people who love this story will discover the three that follow it in the Florida Folk Magic Series.
  • There might be light snow in NW Georgia tonight. What’s odd about that is that it follows last night’s heavy thunderstorms and tornado warnings.  I hope this strange weather sequence isn’t an oment about the kind of year 2022 will be.
  • I have been enjoying Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches and consider it one of the best fantasies I’ve read in a long time. The plot is compelling, featuring three witches trying to lead a normal life in New Salem. Well, what are the odds of that happening. The witches find magical spells hidden in nursery rhymes and listen to old stories which are included in the book. Harrow writes well and has, I believe, created a masterpiece here that will remain on nightstands for a long time. Perhaps until the cows come home.
  • Even though I’m a Winter person, I have to face facts: we’re heading toward Spring. So now you see a spring flowers picture as the header for my blog.
  • I continue to work on Weeping Wall, my novel in progress, set in Glacier National Park as a sequel to The Sun Singer and Sarabande. I am working slowly because the main character knows more magic than I do and it’s kind of hard to fake that. The Weeping Wall, as shown in the picture, is a feature on the park’s Going to the Sun highway. Yes, it’s a good place to get wet or wash your car.
  • Buick LaCrosse III facelift 01 China 2019-04-04.jpgSince our 2006 Buick LaCrosse is, shall we say, getting a big old, my wife and I have been looking at newer sedans. As it turns out, the car companies have gotten rid of almost all of their sedans. I looked on line and found out that one of the reasons is that Americans have gotten too fat to get in and out of them. Now it’s all pickups and SUVs, making me remember how not long ago people stopped buying those because they’re gas hogs. As it turns out, the people are the hogs. Apparently the Chinese continue to love the LaCrosse. No, our car doesn’t look like the one in the photograph.
  • May be an image of text that says 'WELL, WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT LANG AN OLD LANG SIGN'Okay, this isn’t my Facebook meme. Nonetheless, I apologize for showing it to you. I hope you enjoyed New Year’s Eve. We got into a movie and forgot about it other than hearing fireworks out there somewhere. We were watching “Being the Ricardos” which was especially fun for those of us who watched “I Love Lucy” like it was gospel between 1951 and 1957. 



2022 as an adventure rather than a prospective purgatory

Tilly’s morning: following the trail into a new year full of myth, magic, and adventure. We wish you a gentle transition from the old year to the new, with plenty of enchanted pathways to mosey along…. – Terri Windling in Myth and Moor. (Tilly is Terri’s dog, running along a trail.)

After 2020 and 2021, it’s not surprising to see that New Year’s Eve brought out a caterwauling of cynics. Understandably, they echo the sentiments of people who’ve been punched, kicked, or slapped so often they cannot see the world as anything other than more of the same.

Sylvia Lindsteadt has written that “Humans are storytelling creatures. We need story, we need deep mythic happenings, as much as we need food and sun: to set us in our place in the family of things, in a world that lives and breathes and throws us wild tests, to show us the wildernesses and the lakes, the transforming swans, of our own minds.”

I believe her and I hope that as we mosey along through 2022, we’ll be drawn more to more stories of hope and success than the noir rales that are now in vogue. It’s hard to switch from noir to hope because there’s been so much darkness that hope somes across as impractical and naïve.

My view of the world often matches that of Marianne Williamson–her spiritual writings more than her politics. But it’s dangerous, so to speak, to quote her sentiments today because, well, then people look at you funny–and we don’t need that!

Much better to tone down one’s words to “stay well and be safe” even though they fall short of helping hands what are really needed for a wondefully enchanted 2022.

Be safe,


Listen to the story that started it all (the Florida Folk Magic Series), and and AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award winner.

Can we start next year a day early?

Are we fed up or what?

Somehow it feels like both 2020 and 2021 had a few extra days snuck into the mix about August when nobody was paying attention to anything other than the circus of bad news.

Perhaps, if we think real hard, we can make tonight New Year’s Eve and just get started in 2022 with a clean slate before anything else happens.

Here in Northwest Georgia we had thunderstorms and a tornado watch last night. In December? Well, isn’t that just typical! And it’s not over as the rain continues and flood warnings begin to appear in the weather forecasts.

So, why wait another 24 hours for the fireworks and parties and getting drunk in the wrong beds and tacking up a factory fresh calendars on the walls filled with promise and magic?

If we start 2022 right now, we don’t have to worry another 24 hours about getting stuck in 2021. It could happen in a year when just about everything else has happened, including word that a doomsday glacier might break off any second and push the oceans up into the middle of the country.

Rolling Stone headlined the story: ‘The Fuse Has Been Blown,’ and the Doomsday Glacier Is Coming for Us All

Maybe a fresh new year will turn things around. Maybe we’ll get some global freezing to “even things out,” climatewise and possibly kill of COVID and bad movies and bad politicians. We can always hope.


Waking Plain by [Malcolm R. Campbell]

I know this insane mixed up re-telling of Sleeping Beauty probably sounds like something that could only have been written during 2020-2021. Nope, it came out in 2016. Gosh, I hope it didn’t cause the current interesting times.