Random and Unrelated Thoughts

  • Okay, where did y’all come from? You know who you are. You’re one of the one hundred people who stopped by this blog in the last 24 hours. This is a niche blog: that means it’s an acquired taste like anchovies and Finnegans Wake. So, when a lot of people show up, my first thought is: “What the hell happened?” Frankly, I think the FBI, CIA, and NSA have something to do with it. If so, I’ll never tell where the secret files are hidden. If not, then thanks for reading.
  • I saw another ad on a writers’ newsletter this morning that basically said, “Dear writer, You’ve poured your heart and soul into writing a novel, shouldn’t you take the next step and hire a professional editor?” Sure, this could help. The thing is, if a BIG NEW YORK PUBLISHER has bought the MS, they’ll edit it. If not, your editing will cost more than my self-published book can earn. How do I make up the difference?
  • If you have a job and take a vacation to go on the TV show “Survivor,” what are odds that job will still be there if female contestants accuse you on the air of being too touchy-feely, you get warned, and then later you’re removed from the program for an off-camera incident that involved (apparently) a “Survivor” staff member? I’m not sure why I still watch this show because it’s rather like a soap opera and, like other reality shows, isn’t as real as it appears.
  • Regardless of one’s political beliefs, it’s really hard to watch the online coverage of the impeachment hearings without a heavy dose of heroin. I suppose it’s possible that those participating have an opioid IV hooked up to themselves to make sure they get through it all without going nuts.
  • Near the end of the year, every nonprofit that I’ve ever cared about sends me an e-mail that says. “Hey Malcolm, an anonymous donor has agreed to triple match every dollar you give before the deadline of December 18th. I want to ask, “Why is there a deadline?” and “Where the hell am I suppose to get the money to donate $25 to several dozen charities?” I usually send each charity a copy of one of my books so they can sell it (ten years down the road) for $1000000 on eBay.
  • The two books on my Christmas list are Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and Dora Goss’ The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl.  I hope Santa has me on the “nice list.”
  • We’re having beef stew for supper tonight. I dislike Port wine, but it really works well in the stew.
  • I have a feeling that once I upload this post, I won’t have a hundred visitors in the next 24 hours.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novel “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” available in audiobook, e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions.

 

Oops, a friend’s e-mail was hacked and the hacker tried to scan me out of $$$

I got an e-mail from a friend this morning asking if I could do her a favor.

“Sure.”

She responded, “I’m traveling and need somebody who can pick up some iTunes cards for my daughter.”

I had no idea what those were, so I asked where they could be purchased.

Apparently at a grocery store or drug store. The thing was, she wanted three $100-cards and provided instructions for how to e-mail the card’s number (or whatever).

$300?

If she had asked for a $25 card, I might well have done it. But three cards at $100 each? I don’t have that kind of money even with her promise to pay me back when she got back home.

It was a scam. Her e-mail had been hacked, she told me, in an e-mail later in the day.

I told her the scammer was greedy and thought I’d send $300 worth of stuff. Apparently, the hacker changed her address for replies in a way that was hard to detect. I might have sent $25 and never known she had nothing to do with the request.

We apparently have to remain constantly vigilant!

–Malcolm

Thank goodness, I’m not sending out Christmas letters

My parents sent out a yearly Christmas letter, one that–by the time they passed away–had well over a hundred people on it. As he moved up in the University teaching profession, my father taught at many universities. Each one added to those who got a copy of the letter. Many of their friends also sent out letters or cards with a lot of info on them, so we all saw (figuratively) a lot of people growing up whom we hadn’t seen in years.

When my father passed away, it fell to me to let people know on his Christmas letter list. The following Christmas, I heard from them because many of them knew the history of my life through Dad’s letters. So I added those people to my own Christmas letter list. They were up in years, so we lost them off the list year by year, and that was kind of sad, really, because while I had never met most of them, they were in many ways an extended family.

My wife and I sent out our own Christmas letter for 10-15 years but gave it up when most everyone on the list knew all the news already from MySpace or Facebook or e-mail. Long before we gave up on this, Christmas letters had become kind of a joke, partly because people sent out the good news and downplayed or hid the bad news.

I don’t know how my dad maintained an interesting letter from 1942 to 1986 because I found Christmas letters a real chore. We only send out 35-40 of them, but still, I was never sure what kind of information to send out and what to ignore. Those letters belong to another age and another generation and I’m glad we have it all up some years ago.

We have copies of our parents’ Christmas letter. Oddly enough, it’s a history of our growing up years. Whenever we can’t remember what year something happened, we look it up in those old letters.

We still send out some Christmas cards each year, though the number is declining. The cards cost more these days and so does the postage, And people seem to care less about cards that come in the mail when they can simply say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to everyone on their e-mail and Facebook lists by clicking on SEND.

We still get a few Christmas letters every year. Some are interesting. Some are boring. Great letters are, perhaps, a lost art.

Malcolm

Those memories you have of national tragedies

My parents and grandparents never forgot where they were when they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. People often use the phrase “we will never forget” when referring to such tragedies. One reason they remember is due to a so-called flashbulb memory, a term coined by Roger Brown and James Kulik in 1977 to describe the human tendency to remember quite vividly where they were, who they were with, and the details of what they heard when a horrible national or personal event occurred.

I only have two vivid flashbulb memories of national events: where I was when President Kennedy was shot and where I was when the 9/11 attacks occurred. I also have such memories about some family tragedies (outside my own household) occurred.

Why do they happen? There’s a lot of research and speculation. According to Brown and Kulik, “The principal two determinants appear to be a high level of surprise, a high level of consequentiality, or perhaps emotional arousal (assessed by both rating scales and ethnic group membership). If these two variables do not attain sufficiently high levels, no flashbulb memory occurs.”

Researchers have also studied the accuracy of such memories. It appears that while people have a high degree of confidence in such memories, the details fade over time so that–according to one study–ten years after the fact such memories may only be 60% correct. Studies often include memory reports sent out to those in the study group that are compared with earlier reports from each respondent. I have no idea whether much two vivid flashbulb memories are less accurate now than they were years ago. In many ways, those memories are curiosities now rather than vital to my life.

I tend to remember other events when I see pictures or read articles about them. Only then do I remember anything to speak of. No doubt, I would remember more about a terrorist attack or a school shooting if it happened in my town or involved friends and acquaintances. When I was younger, I envied people with so-called photographic memories. If they really have such memories, that would be a blessing and a curse. David Baldacci’s Memory Man series of thrillers about detective Amos Decker shows both sides of the equation: if a horrible emotional thing happens, you’re never rid of it and it’s just as strong today as it was when it happened; on the other hand, if you’re a detective or a reporter or a college student, it might serve you well.

With a true photographic memory–or a large mental database of flashbulb memories–I think it would be hard to remain sane. I, for one, don’t want to re-experience the worst moments of my life over and over with the same grief, sorrow, and anger as I did on the day they happened.

In spite of all the nastiness in the world, I hope that many of us have flashbulb memories (even if we don’t know a flashbulb is) of the better days of your lives. The day we met the man or woman who became our spouse, the day we got married, the days our children were born, the day we passed the bar exam or got our realtor’s licence or first drivers license.

As my wife will testify to, my general memory isn’t that good. Frankly, I don’t know how she remembers so much stuff. I would like to remember more than I do. But I don’t, so I don’t have as many flashbulb memories as a lot of my friends do. That’s okay, I can always Google things to see when they happened. Someday–a day I’m not looking forward to–security cameras and facial recognition software and other spyware will be able to tell me what I was doing when everything that happened happened.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer” is free on Kindle through June 12.

 

 

 

Old slings and arrows: do they still bother you?

I was ready to work on my novel in progress this morning when I saw a post on Facebook about a beloved employer of many people who (I believe) totally screwed up my life with a bad decision. Instead of working on the novel, I found myself replaying the events of the distant past. I couldn’t say what he did on the Facebook page where he was mentioned, because it would: (a) not be received well, (b) open a can of worms, and (c) make people wonder how I could be this pissed off about the whole thing almost 50 years after it happened.

Memories are often like the sea, constantly shifting.

Some say that old men tend to do this. They (including me, I guess) are taught not to cry for most of their lives. Then, when they get old, they can no longer hold it in.

Do you do this? Do you happen to think about some unfairness out of the past and then, without warning, find yourself dwelling upon it as though it happened last week?

Or, is this just a disease saved for those of us who write novels?

I wish I could turn off such thoughts. They have no value unless I translate them into a novel, and they hurt me just as much in the present and they did when they happened. A psychologist would have a field day with this problem.

Then, too, when one thinks about such things logically, s/he can see that had things done the way one wanted them to in the past, a lot of wonderful things since then wouldn’t have happened. Well, there’s a guilt trip for you. This man’s actions cost me–through a domino effect of circumstances–the lady I was planning to marry. Had I done so, I would never have met my wife. Gosh, the old angst is not only a waste of time but a current-day guilt trip.

Most of the time, we can move on from those old slings and arrows, the people and jobs and lifestyles that “got away.” But from time to time, they rush back into our lives to haunt us. Really, I don’t need those ghosts in my life.

But they’re hard to get rid of. How do you handle such things?

Malcolm

Goodbye to Herman Wouk, etc.

Wikipedia Photo

Several years ago, I was surprised to hear that Herman Wouk (The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War) was still around. According to the news, he died in his sleep today. I think most of us hope to go that way when we’re about 103. I could do without that hat or the beard, but ar 103, I would no longer be runaway material.

I grew up reading this man’s books. I remember seeing The Winds of War minseries in 1983 with Robert Mitchum. My wife and I thought it was an interesting series, but laughingly commented how convenient it was that the Robert Mitchum character seemed to show up whenever anything historic was happening.

I suppose his novels are no longer studied in school. If not, that’s a shame.

My publisher Melinda Clayton (Thomas-Jacob Publishing) writes dark novels. So I had to tell her about Redemption Road (2017) by John Hart. I’m reading it now and have to say that this is one well-written, twisted, dark thriller, and one of the best books in this genre that I’ve read in a long time. It’s called a thriller even though it feels more like Southern gothic. I’ve read 75% of it and wonder if anyone will be left alive or even sane by the end of the novel.

I told Melinda that I thought there’s enough darkness to cause an eclipse of the sun.

Thomas-Jacob has redone the cover of my novel Sarabande to make it consistent with the updated cover of The Sun Singer. Sarabande is the sequel to The Sun Singer and was, I think, the most difficult of all my novels to write. Writing from the point of view of the main character, Sarabande, is difficult for a male author, considering the fact that she goes through two assaults in this book.

I’m not sure it’s really possible for men and women to properly and totally understand their opposite genders in the “real world,” much less in fiction where they are compelled to talk about a character’s thoughts as well as his/her actions. Telling the story was an interesting experience, and I hope I learned from it.

Meanwhile, Amazon is still not displaying the cover pictures for the hardback editions of Eulalie and Washerwoman and Lena. I complained to Amazon about it today, noting that Barnes & Noble is displaying the covers.

Thanks to those of you who checked on me here, via e-mail, and on Facebook about yesterday’s biopsy. As I told Montucky, the pre-op visit to the hospital and the paperwork before and after the biopsy took more time than the biopsy. I have some pain killers but really haven’t needed them. The hospital staff was great. Now we’re in a waiting mode for the results which the doctor said would take a week. Reminds me of the Navy’s “hurry up and wait.”

Now, for those of you addicted to “Survivor: Edge of Extinction,” this year’s series has now run its course and you can go back to your normal lives without having to worry about who will be voted off the show during tribal council.

As my alterego Jock Stewart has suggested on more than one occasion, Congress needs to operate with a “tribal council system” in which each month the House or Senate gets together and votes somebody out of office. That would help clean house, so to speak. We need to get rid of the deadwood, the inept, and the insane. That certainly includes the lawmakers of Alabama after they voted in a heartbeat abortion law that shows the men there still consider the woman there as property.

Malcolm

 

 

Hello Withdrawal, My Old Friend

When I began smoking cigarettes, they relieved stress. They probably kept me from getting fat. They also made me smell like a campfire, but in those days smelling like a campfire was acceptable.

According to what I’ve read, a nicotine dependency is about as bad as a cocaine or a heroin dependency, though supposedly nicotine withdrawal is easier than the hard stuff. People using marijuana doesn’t have as or high a dependency as strong a withdrawal problem as cigarette smokers, so I’m among those who wonder why marijuana–even for health uses–is still generally illegal.

I haven’t smoked a cigarette for 25 years. However, if I see people smoking or think about smoking, my withdrawal returns at almost the same intensity as it did the first time I tried to quit smoking. It took numerous attempts to quit. But I’m not free of it. If my wife weren’t hideously allergic to cigarette smoke, it would be easy to start again.

My smoking began as a “cure” for a failed romance and then as a crutch for military service. That doesn’t mean that I blame either the lady or the navy. Smoking was a conscious choice, one that seemed to work. I don’t think I was smoking because it was supposedly cool or badass.

Like many people, I didn’t plan to get addicted. I thought I’d smoke a few cigarettes a day and quit whenever I wanted to. I ended up smoking three packs a day 25 years later with the distinct impression that I’d never be able to quit. The addiction was so bad, I smoked when I had the flu or a cold and once walked to the store in a snowstorm when I was out of cigarettes and my car was snowbound in the driveway.

As I write this, I want to light a cigarette. That’s how invasive nicotine is. I’m happy that there appear to be fewer people smoking these days than there were in the 1960s. The health risks are bad enough, but the withdrawal is a constant companion long after all the ashtrays have been thrown away.

My writing suffered when I quit smoking because I always lit a cigarette when I sat down to write. Fortunately, I can write now without lighting up a Marlboro. I am also capable of answering the phone or walking into a bar without lighting up a Marlboro. The trouble is, I really want to light up a Marlboro. Daily, I make a conscious choice not to do that.

It’s better if one just doesn’t get started. That seems so obvious now. But, in 1968 when I started smoking, we didn’t trust anyone over 30 and those were the people who said you’ll be sorry you ever got started. Hell, the bastards were right.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena” in which one of the characters chews tobacco and one of the characters smokes.