Listen to your muse–or your subconscious or your dreams when you write

If you want fresh ideas for your novel or short story in progress, keep the work on your mind, at least sort of while you’re doing repetitive tasks or end up watching a boring TV show. (I’ve learned that it’s not good to do this while you’re having a conversation with your spouse.)

Keeping the story in mind during times when I’m not facing the pressure of a blank screen seems to bring ideas to mind that I hadn’t thought of before. Quite often, they’re about something a character should do or say in the scene I’m about to write.

Most writers I know choke up–rather like the batter in a world series game who finds himself facing the ace reliever on the other team–when they start a new chapter. It’s as though the page break at the end of the previous chapter has turned into a scary threshold and now the ideas just won’t come.

I usually wait a day or so before starting a new chapter. That gives time for my muse, so to speak, to supply some ideas for jump-starting the action.  When I’m not sitting at the PC, a treasure trove of ideas comes into my thoughts out of nowhere. These are pure cold and much better than anything I would have come up with while staring fearfully at the screen.

According to Wikipedia, “In modern figurative usage, a muse is a literal person or supernatural force that serves as someone’s source of artistic inspiration.” I prefer the supernatural force explanation. The muse in the painting, who works with sacred poetry, is Polyhymnia. My muse is much more up-to-date.

Somewhere or other, I have a post out there in which I said that I rejected the idea of an author’s muse because those portrayed by artists always seemed to be fragile women who were dying of consumption. As it turned out, a character in one of my older novels became the personification of my muse. She’s really badass.

I don’t try to visualize this character while waiting for book ideas. I just think about the work in progress and Siobhan always shows up with the ideas I need to get back to work.

Does this sound weird or does it already work for you?


Malcolm R. Campbell’s muse got really snarky while he was writing “Special Investigative Reporter.” That’s probably why the AudioFile Magazine reviewer said, “The story is high on humor but light on plot–a vehicle for sex, cigarettes, steak, and zinfandel.”


Paper burns at 451° F

Paper burns at 451° F, sometimes as low as 424° F.

So, you can see how easy it is to burn books or–as we often see in the movies–incriminating notes in an ashtray.

Do you suppose this will be our ultimate method for keeping unapproved books off the shelves, out of the classrooms, and outside public discourse?

We even have a manual for how to do it, a manual that the publisher “cleaned it up” before Dahl’s publisher and estate applied the cutting torch to his works.

Suppose, like the Catholic Church, the  Imperial Federal government and the state governments were to decide upon one approved list that would prevent the contamination of our citizens or the corruption of beliefs and sensibilities through the reading of theologically erroneous or immoral books.

This would save money because there would be no more book ban hearings, no more teachers sneaking personal books into their classrooms, and no more publishers having to clean up works that might offend some weakling who might turn into a serial killer by reading a 100-year-old swear word in a novel.

A simple match will clean house and save humanity.



Are we as weak as the ‘modern sensibilities’ advocates think we are?

Roald Dahl’s estate and publisher are “cleaning up” parts of his books so they can continue to be enjoyed by people with “modern sensibilities.” This has caused a backlash, but the changes will probably go through.

The revisions are an outrage that I hope isn’t going to be applied to all books written in the past that use descriptions from authors and norms that were the product of their times.

Published by Penguin, so it should be an undamaged version.

The gist of the thing is that apparently writing or saying anything that offends anyone on the face of the earth is immoral. Well, that view pretty much kills debate, new ideas, and most fiction.

Those advocating not offending anyone have learned the power of mob action and well-financed protests. They don’t care about the “bad words,” they care about the message itself. So they claim XYZ offends them. My response is “so what?” I have the right to say what I believe even if people don’t like it. The “modern sensibilities” advocates purport to believe, for example, that if a fat child reads about a fat child in a story, that fat child will probably be scarred for life. Sorry, I don’t buy this.

A BBC story about the changes to Dahl’s books includes the following quote:

“Laura Hackett, deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times, said she would continue to read her original copies of Dahl’s books to her children in all ‘their full, nasty, colourful glory.’

“‘I think the sort of the nastiness is what makes Dahl so much fun,’ she told 5 Live. ‘You love it when, in Matilda, Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to eat that whole chocolate cake, or you are locked up in the Chokey [a torture device] – that’s what children love.

“‘And to remove all references to violence or anything that’s not clean and nice and friendly, then you remove the spirit of those stories.'”

Salman Rushdie said on Twitter that  “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

And they should be. They are doing something that I believe is unethical, misguided, and offensive.

We’re all doomed.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of an anti-KKK series of novels set in the 1950s that uses the language and beliefs of that period. If this bugs you, don’t read the four books in the series.

Sunday’s Gumbo

  • Some people make what they call “gumbo” with filé powder and no okra. I cry foul. “Gumbo” is a synonym for “okra,” so if you’re using that powder and no okra, what you have ain’t real gumbo. My 2¢.
  • While waiting for two Kristin Hannah books to arrive, I’m enjoying re-reading Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. I first read it in 2016 so by now I’ve forgotten so many details, it’s almost like reading a factory-fresh new book. From the publisher: Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes. During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is―as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences. From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.
  • According to a Facebook meme, we’ve left spy balloon season and entered train derailment season.
  • It’s sad to see former President Jimmy Carter going into hospice care. My wife and I met Rosalynn Carter when she gave a wonderful mental health-related speech at the Atlanta History Center. After the talk, she walked through the audience row by row and thanked each of us for coming. Her hand was so fragile I felt like I might inadvertently crush it. Her smile though and her focus on each of us when we shook hands–those were indestructible. I’ve been impressed by the Carters’ long-time support of Habitat for Humanity, including going on-site and hammering nails.
  • Note Number Two: It really irks me that they (whoever they are) took the ¢ sign off the computer keyboard. It seems more useful than the + sign which is still there. In the 1950s, we would have said that commies were responsible for this conspiracy. Now, I’m guessing it’s some neo-whatever group.
  • Dear Ingram: Every time you raise printing prices, we have to redo covers and update the price of the books in the bar codes and on the site. This is a real hassle. Think of the price you first charged us as similar to rent control and engrave it in stone for all time.
  • Aw shucks, none of my books made it onto PEN America’s literary awards list of finalists. With a share of PEN’s $350,000 in total prize money, my publisher wouldn’t have to worry about the costs of updating our Ingram covers.
  • I was all set to drive a $70,000 Plus Six Morgan off the lot when my wife steered us to the Honda dealership where we bought a 2019 HRV at a fraction of the cost. My realities don’t match my dreams. Of course, if we’d bought the Morgan, we would have needed to clean out the garage so that at least one car fits in there. So, there is that.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire novel “Special Investigative Reporter.

Literary News: PEN America Awards


Event Convenes Stars of Literature, Entertainment, and Media in Celebration of the Past Year’s Best Writing, Conferring Over $350,000 in Awards


(NEW YORK)—PEN America today announces Kal Penn, the acclaimed actor, author, and former Obama White House aide, as host of the 60th annual PEN America Literary Awards, to be held Thursday, March 2, at The Town Hall (123 W 43rd St) in New York City. This year’s ceremony exemplifies the event’s recent growth into a preeminent gathering of the city’s writing, publishing, entertainment, and media luminaries with passionate book lovers to bestow some of the most significant prizes in literature. The red carpet opens at 6pm, followed by the ceremony at 8pm. Tickets, starting at $15, are on sale now at

This year’s star-studded lineup of career-achievement award winners, presenters, and performers will be announced soon.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief program officer for Literary Programming at PEN America, said, “Kal Penn epitomizes PEN America’s belief in the capacity of writers and artists to instigate social and political change. His illuminating, often hilarious 2021 memoir You Can’t Be Serious reveals in candid prose a life and multi-hyphenated career—including a hiatus from acting to do crucial work at the White House—that sets an example for civically engaged artistry. He is the perfect person to lead a captivating evening celebrating exemplary literature—while considering the urgent societal concerns within many of these books, and the work PEN America does in advocating for free expression year-round.”

Described as “the Oscars for books” by past host Seth Meyers, the PEN America Literary Awards feature speeches, live music, theatrical performances, and a moving In Memoriam segment honoring the literary greats lost over the last year. Writers and cultural visionaries will present 11 book awards and three career-achievement awards: the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature; the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. In the past, the ceremony has been enlivened by powerhouse talents such as Christine Baranski, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Eisa Davis, Jackie Sibblies Drury, André Holland, Kenneth Lonergan, Elaine May, Cynthia Nixon, and Tom Stoppard. Finalists for all book awards will be announced later in February, and all winners will be revealed at the ceremony. See PEN America’s previously-announced longlists for the book awards here.

The PEN America Literary Awards recognize both established and emerging writers and are remarkably effective as identifiers of early talent. PEN America’s awards were among the very first to recognize Chang Rae Lee (1996), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer (2002), Imani Perry (2019), and countless others. Lisa Ko’s The Leavers went from winning the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, an award that honors an exceptional unpublished manuscript, to being a national bestseller.

Spanning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, and translation, the books celebrated at the awards are dynamic, diverse, and thought-provoking examples of literary excellence. By the end of the evening, PEN America will have conferred more than $350,000 in awards to writers and translators.

Each award is juried by panels of esteemed authors, editors, translators, and critics. These judges, selected with the help of the PEN America Literary Awards Committee, hail from across the world and represent a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and literary pursuits, with some award-winning writers themselves—including Lauren GroffKimiko HahnJohn McWhorter, and Erika L. Sánchez, and many more.

NOTE: You can see a list of categories and finalists here

Why I’m skipping ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

This new film adaptation of the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque is generally receiving positive reviews by viewers and critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of 142 critics’ reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The consensus is that the film is, “Both timely and timeless, All Quiet on the Western Front retains the power of its classic source material by focusing on the futility of war.” Wikipedia notes that “Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 76 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews.”

From the trailers, the cinematography appears excellent and in your face, although some critics say the film missed “the essence” of the novel, and wondered if the filmmakers had read  Remarque’s book. Like the scenes of the D-Day landing in “Saving Private Ryan,” the horror of similarly realistic scenes in this movie will in some ways teach viewers just what war is. And, perhaps, move them to vote for people who don’t send our soldiers into that horror.

I’m skipping the movie because I read the book when I was too young for it–junior high school. I had PTSD nightmares for years afterward. I wish I could see the movie, but I’m not strong enough (I guess) to return to the venue of the novel. That book probably was one of the influences on my becoming a pacifist. Even so, I think we need such novels and feature films because they might turn more people away from the so-called honor of dying for one’s country or becoming a “hero” for going where nobody should ever have to go.

I think all the “honor and glory” the country lays at the feet of soldiers living and dead is bullshit. Movies like this remind us that death accomplishes nothing except grieving family members.


‘All Quiet’ wins 7 BAFTAs, including best film, at U.K. film awards ceremony


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of anti-Klan ficition set in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s, at present a four-book seires beginning with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”


Feds shoot down child’s helium balloon at state fair

Junction City, Texas, February 12, 2023, Star-Gazer News Service–A squadron of F-22 Raptors used twenty AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles to bring down an errant blue helium balloon that slipped through the fingertips of twelve-year-old Jack Daniels who had just won the balloon at the state fair’s shooting gallery.

The balloon was bobbing and turning on wind gusts that had carried it to an estimated altitude of some 500 feet which, according to an Air Force spokesperson posed a threat to drones flown by local hobbyists.

No drones were damaged during the encounter nor was there any damage on the ground other than the farm equipment tent where leading manufacturers had an estimated $700,000 worth of tractors, combines, ploughs, and harrows on display.

At press time, there was conflicting testimony about whether or not any of the missiles carried nuclear payloads. Several witnesses who may or may not have been sober insisted that there was a mushroom cloud above the space where the Ferris wheel once stood.

According to General Bat Masterson, “We have an open order from our superiors in Washington, D.C to shoot down anything without a valid transponder signal or registration number, or is simply acting weird.”

Spokesmen were quick to point out that those who were killed on the Ferris wheel, if any, were heroes.

The balloon, which was recovered by Texas Rangers, is being analyzed for anything that might matter.

According to pollsters, those attending the fair “enjoyed the show.”

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

Grandpa, tell us the story about the time you sank your dad’s speedboat

When we were kids we heard the same stories many times. Some were family yarns and some were the storybooks we were being read to just before falling asleep. We found delight in re-hearing the stories we already knew. Perhaps there was a comfort in knowing how they turned out. Perhaps it was the way grandparents and other relatives told (re-enacted) the family stories every time Thanksgiving or Christmas rolled around.

As adults, some of us still do that. We watch movies multiple times. We re-read books multiple times. Each time that happens, we learn or notice something new. Right now, I’m re-reading Jeff Shaara’s A Chain of Thunder about Grant’s siege of Vicksburg and George Wald’s Therefore Choose Life (first mentioned in my blog here.) Some say that the fall of Vicksburg was more instrumental in the Union victory than the fall of Gettysburg and that Gettysburg got more press and public attention because it was closer to Washington, D.C., and other major cities. I have no idea whether or not that notion is true, though historians will probably always be debating the issue.

Nobel laureate George Wald gave an elegant lecture in 1970 as part of the Canadian Broadcasting  Corporation’s Massey Lectures series. The resulting book is a short course on how life arose on our planet. I love it because it’s clear and meant for general readers rather than scientists, and that means it goes a long way in explaining the unbroken chain of life that’s responsible for all of us on the planet.

One interesting point in the book is that man has no specifications and continues to evolve. Technological creations always have specifications and–not counting where AI might take us– technology is engraved in stone once it’s become a product. That is, it cannot evolve. Wald was well-known outside of scientific circles during the 60s and 70s because he was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.

He tells the story of life on earth the way grandpa might tell how and why the family’s speedboat sank near Alligator Point, Florida. It’s accessible. It’s interesting. And perhaps it explains why we’re here. As Wald would say, atoms, molecules, and the universe itself know themselves because man has seen them, thought about them, and written about them. What a magnificent story.

As for Jeff Sharra, I’ve read all of his books because he took his father’s book, The Killer Angels, about the battle of Gettysburg, and wrote novels about what happened before and after that battle. Then he began writing about other wars and other battles. These books tell me stories I did not hear in history class. Like the stories I heard as a child, I know how these stories will end, but the telling has a lot of spirit and spunk and draws me back to them. Wald’s story is more open-ended, in many ways dependent on what we do not about climate change and other issues of the day.


P.S. We did sink the speedboat.

I need a continuity assistant

Since I write without a plan, I seldom note down what a house (for example) looks like inside or out. I mention the things that matter as the scenes unfold, but later I have no memory of the furniture or the front porch, or the rooms. The problem here is that when people come to that house two books later in the series, I don’t know what they’re seeing–much less what they’re sitting on.

This means laboriously going through the Kindle versions of my books and taking a lot of notes about the house’s style and furnishings. The time I save by not taking notes about settings in novel one is more than used up while finding out what’s what by reading through earlier material while writing novels two, three, and four.

For some reason, I always think I’ll remember the details. I seldom do because they’re created on the fly as the action unfolds. People catch continuity problems in movies all the time. The sofa in a scene is red, then it’s suddenly blue in the next scene and not even there the next time people go into the living room.

The last thing I want is readers telling me that a house–or even a sofa–keeps changing color from book to book. Or somebody’s hair or eye color. In “The Big Sleep,” Bogart said of his manners, “I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.” I could say the same thing about my writing habits.

They help me write book one. They’re a detriment in the books that follow. That’s why I need an assistant to make a list of the houses, people, &c. in each book and send it to me as a dictionary of everything I’ve said before about everything.

But, as a poor starving author, I can’t afford a continuity supervisor, so I need to change my habits. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen.


Does computer spam have a supply chain problem?

Every time there’s a product missing from the shelves, we hear it’s caused by a supply chain problem. The supply chain problem was apparently caused by the COVID problem. Now, we’re no longer getting regular deliveries of computer SPAM. What little we get is of low quality and probably comes from third-world countries where English grammar isn’t understood.

As most of you know, WordPress dumps 99.44% of the SPAM destined for this blog into a spam queue where it sits until I go see what it is and verify that it’s SPAM. I can see at a glance that there’s less spam than usual and that the stuff that is in the queue has no redeeming value.

Like most bloggers, I spent a fair amount of time each week throwing away stuff in the SPAM queue so that it doesn’t escape into the comments section of my posts for everyone to see. After all, this is a family blog. Well, mostly. Plus, a lot of the SPAM is quite lengthy as well as indecipherable.  I’m not really sure how posting gibberish in the comments section of my blog can possibly help either the spammer or the readers.

I always assume the SPAM is hiding links to the Dark Web.

Most of the SPAM in the queue has to do with porn. At my age, I’m not excited by porn. In fact, I never was. So I assume porn SPAM is for people with an IQ of 10 at best. My IQ’s a bit higher.

If we’re lucky, maybe SPAM will just go away, stuck in the supply chain forever. If so, would you miss it?


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series.