How writers cope with ‘interesting times’

The daily news is out of control. Whether one keeps up online or on TV, there is little there except alternating tragedies: the pandemic, of course; the mess in Afghanistan; riots and hate crimes; the storm in the northweast; the immigration problems along the U.S./Mexican border; polarized politics complete with lies and coverups.

Writer Illustrations and Clipart. 560,558 Writer royalty free  illustrations, and drawings available to search from thousands of stock  vector EPS clip art graphic designers.Many writers cope with the continuing uproar by writing. In her latest Funds for Writers newletter, author Hope Clark said writing is cathartic for her. That is, it tends to purge negative emotions and, in doing so, creates a new attitude–or, let us say, a better or more hopeful attitude.

Writing, of course, changes one’s focus from the worst of reality to the task of stringing words together, to the subject matter of the work, or the locations and characters in the story. Whether the work is fiction or nonfiction, it usually involves research that’s a change of pace from the news. Writing takes us away, but it’s not like burying one’s head in the sand and becoming ignorant or uncaring about the issues.

Some people get away from it all by going to vacation, spending a day on the lake, camping or hiking in the mountains, or catching up on household chores. Some people repaint their houses every time there’s a national crisis. Others weed the garden.

And writers (often, but not always) spend their time in imaginary places of their own creation. It’s not always easy. As Hope Clark said, “If writing is a part of you, you crave and yearn to write. If you struggle with it, all the more reason to sit down and do it. If you write ten words in an hour, you do so. Chances are that prying those words loose might let the waters flow. Maybe only trickle, but the point is you are moving forward with getting words, any words, any amount of words, on the page.”

We aren’t writing to change the world but to stay sane in the world as it is.


Losing the News – Local News in Peril

As local news outlets are gutted and shuttered, reporters laid off, publication schedules cut, and resources tightened across the country, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions sounds the alarm about the existential threat facing local watchdog journalism and proposes big-picture solutions for its revitalization.

Source: Losing the News – PEN America

This important report shows how news coverage of local issues in local newspapers is being lost: “Most Americans do not yet realize that their local news sources are on the brink of collapse and only a small minority pay for local news.”

“Local” is–obviously–where we live, and as we lose local watch-dog reporting and coverage of on-going issues, we are entering a paradoxical situation where we know more about what’s going in Washington, D. C., and other major cities than we do in the towns where we live.

Why does local journalism matter and what must we do to save it? If this subject resonates with you, click on the link above to see the report and its conclusions. As a former college journalism instructor, you have my gratitude if you read and share this report.



Las Vegas – those we mourn

Our mourning does not begin and end with the dead. It includes the injured, the relatives of the dead and injured, their friends, their co-workers, and the others attending the concert. It includes the first responders and those at the hospitals where the dead and injured we carried. The list has no end.

Here are the dead whose names we know at this point:

Wikipedia map.

Hannah Ahlers, Murrieta, Calif.
Heather Alvarado, 35, Cedar City, Utah
Neysa Tonks, 46, Las Vegas, Nev.
Thomas Day Jr., 54, Corona, Calif.
Melissa Ramirez, 26, Los Angeles, Calif.
Jack Beaton, 54, Bakersfield, Calif.
Christiana Duarte, 22, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Denise Burditus, 50, Martinsburg, W.Va.
Dorene Anderson, 49, Anchorage, Alaska
Adrian Murfitt, 35, Anchorage, Alaska
Lisa Patterson, Lomita, Calif.
Jennifer Irvine, 42, San Diego, Calif.
John Phippen, 56, Santa Clarita, Calif.
Michelle Vo, 32, Los Angeles
Charleston Hartfield, 34, Henderson, Nev.
Rocio Guillen Rocha, 40, Eastvale, Calif.
Jenny Parks, 35, Palmdale, Calif.
Angie Gomez, 20, Riverside, Calif.
Jordan McIldoon, 23, Maple Ridge, Canada
Bailey Schweitzer, 20, Bakersfield, Calif.
Christopher Roybal, 28, Corona, Calif.
Stacee Etcheber, 50, Novato, Calif.
Carrie Barnette, 34, Riverside, Calif.
Susan Smith, 53, Simi Valley, Calif.
Jessica Klymchuk, 34, Canada.
Rhonda LeRocque, 42, Tewksbury, Ma.
Quinton Robbins, 20, Henderson, Nev.
Dana Gardner, 52, Grand Terrace, Calif.
Sonny Melton, 29, Big Sandy, Tenn.
Lisa Romero-Muniz, 48, Gallup, N.M.
Sandy Casey, 35, California
Rachael Parker, 33, Manhattan Beach, Calif.

The murderer is also dead, but I won’t sully the names of the innocent by including the guilty.

We’re slowly hearing information about the dead in addition to their names: their lives, their jobs, their photographs. We’re also hearing stories about those who helped and saved others in the middle of this tragedy.  There were many heroes. We may never know the names of all of the dead and injured, the first responders and hospital personnel, or the heroes on the scene who pulled people out of harm’s way.

Journalists and others who keep records will call this the worst shooting in the United States. Others will discuss prospective gun control legislation and concert security measures. This is probably necessary as long as we don’t forget those who died, those who were injured, and those who tried to help them. The real tragedy is what happened at ground zero, and those who were in that place are those we mourn.


See the CNN In Memoriam Page for updates.

Microsoft to update your brain due to atomic clock hacking incident

Washington, D. C., January 1, 2017 (hacked time), Star-Gazer News Service – After the National Security Information discovered that Kim Jong-un ordered the Supreme Hacking Department of North Korea’s administration to hack into and disrupt the Unites State’s atomic clock, President Obama had a new problem:

To be puctual, or not to be punctual, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the land to suffer skewed time
With it’s Slings and Arrows of undestined misfortune,
Or to take Arms against a malware sea of code,
And by opposing, obliterate it, to say we now awake
To end the Heart-Ache of sleep in our hexed abode
And hope the replacement era suits us better for goodness’ sake.

North Korean hacked time at the fictional present moment.
North Korean hacked time at the fictional present moment.

According to 98.6% of the federal government’s panel of scientists, most Americans believe today is January 1, 2017 because the North Korean malware introduced a stream of malicious leap seconds into the heart of the atomic clock so that ever since the dog days of August, time has moved “faster than theoretically possible.”

“Among other things,” said Temporal Control Officer (TPO) Erwin Schrödinger, “birds and bees are ‘doing it’ more often than usual, work days are longer and weekends are shorter, and most of what’s happened in the last four months never happened.”

Press secretary James “Jay” Carney said that the administration has decided to “let the temporal cat out of the temporal box” and “take arms against the malware sea of code.”

According to Schrödinger, most Americans will suffer no ill effects from an over-night reprogramming of their brains via software contributed by Microsoft.

Actual time

“While you sleep, perchance to dream,” said Carney, “your brain will be taken back to August 11th and will be re-set so as to allow the entire nation to move ahead in harmony with time as the good Lord has defined it, ordered it, and calculated it. Most people will suffer no ill effects and will wake up tomorrow as though nothing has happened. Quite frankly, nothing has happened since the lethargic and indolent dog days, so for most people it will be business as usual even though a few people may have to reboot their sex lives and other coping mechanisms several times to get back on track.”

Concerned about the ethics of violating Star Trek’s temporal prime directive and voiding four months of seemingly real activity, the administration erred on the side of caution by taking no action in spite of the fact it was informed of the hack while it was happening. Some government philosophers said that if we got a “do over,” the same things would happen because they were destined to happen. Others said that “tweaks in the updates’ reprogramming code would keep people from doing the wrong things they did and the result would be a better world.

The decision was finally made when Obama asked if reprogramming the clock and the brains of the populace would bring back Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

“We told him it would,” said Schrödinger, “even though everything that may have happened since August 11th is neither true nor not true until we reprogram ourselves the new truth is set free–or isn’t.”

“Make it so,” the President said.

–Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

You might just win a Kindle Fire Tablet if you sign up for my publisher’s newsletter

tjlogoThomas-Jacob Publishing is starting a newsletter to help its adoring readers keep up with upcoming books and events. Since this is my publisher, I hope the readers are adoring. I’m proud of our catalogue, featuring books by:

  • Malcolm Campbell
  • Melinda Clayton
  • Tracy Franklin
  • Michael Franklin
  • Robert Hays
  • Smoky Zeidel.

Okay, moving onto the Kindle Fire Tablet. Click on the graphic below to go to the newsletter signup page. Just a few fields to fill out and then you’re done.

The first place winner of the tablet and the two second place winners of a free paperback from Thomas-Jacob’s list will be selected in a random drawing August 17th.


Good luck in the drawing!



Feds close cat boot camp

from the archives;

Albino County, October 20, 2009–Drill Instructor Boots Anderson slips quietly into barracks #3724 five minutes before Reveille on a cool Texas morning. The humidity is 68%, the pressure is 30.05 inches, the dew point is 56 degrees, and the 100 felines at the Albino County Rat Army Boot Camp are blissfully sleeping in the calm before the storm.

Anderson scowls at the mess, the random hairballs, the shredded up bunks, the tipped over litter boxes, the complete lack of military grade standards of cleanliness and ambiance, “as though a tornado hit the freaking place during the long hours between taps and dawn,” he muses poetically.

catsAnd then it hits. Anderson slings the open, CinchSak (R) 39-gallon lawn and leaf bag of empty cat food cans against the wall. Two hundred eyes pop open, one hundred pairs of ears go back, growls, snarls echo throughout the austere structure. Manx cats comprise company 816, so the denizens can’t turn tail and run, opting for caterwauling instead, the kind that makes Anderson’s skin crawl as though he’s covered in fire ants, the nasty buggers.

“Atten-HUH,” bellows Anderson, though it does little good. He hates himself when he resorts to trickery, but the corps demands it or Manx Company is not going to be wearing cat’s pajamas on graduation day. So, he puts a smile in his voice when he utters the disgusting words, “Food Time! Would my pretty little kitties like an itty bitty ditty bad of treats?”

The cats assemble smartly in the long center aisle between the rows of bunks. Their bearing is is straight and true like those perfectly posed goddess-style cats in art from ancient Egypt.

“So you’re not a lost cause after all, you lousy, good-for-nothing curs, you miserable excuses for ratters, you sloppy-as-dogs critters, you alleyway varmints. You Siamese.” He adds that for good measure, knowing it’s a low thing to say to a Manx.

At this moment (05:25 central), the emergency doors at the far end of the building are kicked open and the Feds, damn their lousy timing, crash into the room with assault rifles, mace, snarling dogs straining on leashes, and enough spotlights to make the cats’ eyes look like his chaotic collection of old marbles before his brother lost them to Dexter Smith in the school yard before the cat got his tongue.

“General Mark Sirius, Homeland Security SWAT Tsar,” shouts the dog-eared fat officer who rolls into the room like like a basset on a acid.

“Are you serious?” yells Anderson.

“If you don’t believe me, read my name tag, you wussie cat lover. We’re shutting down this operation until we sort through the litter and totally understand what kind of shit you people are into in this county.”

“Do you have a warrant?”

“Warrant, why would I need a warrant when I’ve got guns, dogs, mace and the Patriot Act backing me up? Stand down, I say, for Mark Sirius is sitting in the cat bird seat today.”

“It’s a little late for that, General, the cats bugged out when you busted in,” says Anderson.

“What the hell?” Sirius doesn’t look like a cute doggy in the window now. “How did they manage that?”

“Training, General, plus they got those little cat feet; they slipped out like fog.”

“Cats or no cats, we’re shutting you down. For one thing, it just ain’t right, even in Texas. I know what you’re thinking, Anderson. You’re thinking all we do at Homeland Security is make life difficult for honest, everyday people. Not by a long shot. We’ve been studying cats, from cat dancing to catamounts to catacombs.”

“So what,” says Anderson, grinning like a Cheshire cat that’s starting to fade into the woodwork.

“I’ll tell you what, mister smiley face, you organize cats, you gotta a catastrophe. You think you can control them, but you can’t. You whistle and they keep on disobeying your commands, telling secrets, spying, sneaking in under the radar. That’s just anarchy, the kind of cat’s cradle trap our enemies are waiting for us to get our fat paws stuck in while our pants are down.”

Sirius is stoked like a cat on a hot tin roof, but he’s not wagging his tail now because Anderson has faded away into the Texas morning, a morning when the winds are gusting to 23 mph, a morning when the old general should head to the dog house early and hang his head while his masters tell him Sirius is a bad puppy for not putting all those cats in a great big hat and bringing in for questioning.

Anderson laughs from a nearby tree. Once the FEDs leave, it will be back to business as usual. All he has to do is open a can of tuna and the troops will pass in review, soon, if not smartly, the sorry flea-bitten strays.


Publishers Weekly Leads Petition Drive to End Cuba Book Embargo

Cubans and Americans haven’t had much access to each other’s literature for fifty years. Even though relations are becoming more normalized between the two countries, the overall embargo remains in place.

PWlogoPersonally, I don’t think an embargo on consumer products ever made sense, much less now.

According to the Publishers Weekly article A Letter from PW on the Cuba Book Embargo, “The Cuban people’s desire, and need, for American books was evident during the February U.S. publishing mission to Cuba, organized by PW and Combined Book Exhibit, in close cooperation with Cuban government officials.”

Click on the link in the paragraph above to see why PW thinks the embargo should be lifted. Or, if you already believe it should be lifted, you can read the petition here.

The embargo can only be lifted through Congressional action.




Briefly Noted: ‘I Do: A Cultural History of Montana Weddings’

“A young and plucky eastern girl moves to the Wild West to be swept off her feet by a handsome and muscular cowboy: it’s the stereotypical plot of countless romance novels set in Montana.” – Montana Historical Society Press

We’ve all seen wedding stories like this in movies, novels and television shows. Some of those stories might even be real. However, historian Martha Kohl, a fifteen-year specialist at the the Montana Historical Society in Helena, found that the reality of Montana weddings over a 150-year period was every bit as romantic and absorbing as the fiction.

If you live in or near Helena, you can meet the author and enjoy the society’s new exhibit “And the Bride Wore…Montana Weddings, 1900-1960” on January 10th, between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the MHS headquarters at 225 North Roberts.

IdoFrom the Publisher:

Through engaging stories of romance, insightful analysis, and historic intriguing photographs, I Do: A Cultural History of Montana Weddings provides an intimate and surprising look at an important tradition. I Do journeys through the last 150 years of Montana history, from the 1860s gold rush to the internet age, to reveal the lives of ordinary people, from Finnish homesteaders, Chinese restaurateurs, and Métis fiddlers to struggling miners, Blackfeet students, and Jewish merchants.

About the Exhibit:

MHSlogoThe Montana Historical Society’s newest temporary exhibit, will examine how history has shaped weddings—and particularly wedding fashion—during the first half of the twentieth century. Sixteen delightful and diverse dresses will be on display, including a hand-stitched dress made of white lace and yellow silk ribbon (worn in Butte in 1907), a Crow elk-tooth dress (worn in Lodge Grass in 1945), and a ballerina-style white dress of synthetic satin, lace and tulle (worn in Hardin in 1957). An opening reception will be held January 10, 2013, from 6:30-8:00. The opening will feature a wedding dress fashion show, a 1950s style cake and punch reception, a book signing by Martha Kohl, author of I Do: A Cultural History of Montana Weddings, and Slovenian wedding dance music. Don’t miss the fun! Viewers will be asked to participate in the exhibit by voting for their favorite ensemble and trying their hand at an old-fashioned Singer treadle sewing machine. The dresses will remain on exhibit through November 2013.

The exhibit is listed on line here with contact information and other details.


A long-time member of the Montana Historical Society, Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels partially set in Glacier National Park, including “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” and the upcoming new adventure, “The Seeker.” Watch the trailer.


End of an Era – The last ‘Newsweek’ Print Issue

newsweekThe final cover of the print edition of “Newsweek” was revealed in an article in “The Huffington Post.”

Even though I haven’t read “Newsweek” in over ten years, I’m sad to see it go, just as I was also sad to see many of the other weekly and monthly print magazines I grew up with go out of business over the years. With the loss of these magazines, the public (and writers) lost a lot of outlets for short stories, features, commentary, viewpoint and the longer-form journalism that wouldn’t fit in the daily newspaper.

Founded in 1933, “Newsweek” seemed destined to trail behind “Time Magazine” in circulation. However, I found it more accessible than “Time” during the days before it began going down hill. As a subscriber, the first indication of coming hard times was the size of the magazine. It began getting thinner and thinner as pages were cut even though the subscription price increased.

I mourn the death of magazines because they presented in-depth stories most newspapers didn’t have the time or space to cover. Our Internet world is too full of hype, instant-experts, short-attention-span articles, articles filled with opinions and commentary, and all the other rush-to-judgement “facts” and “notions” the social media are famous for. Online “news,” to the extent that it can be called news, has lost most of the traditions of solid, professional reporting.

Blurring Facts and Opinions

Another reason I stopped reading “Newsweek” was due to its blurring of the lines between good journalism and bad journalism. Good reporters never tell you what they feel about a story, much less include ideas/views that aren’t attributed to a reputable source. True, news magazines did present analysis, but “Newsweek” often took that as license to write “news stories” in which the facts and opinions were mixed up into the kind of story I didn’t even expect my college journalism students to be writing once we got a ways into the semester.

newsweekfirstI got so ticked off at “Newsweek” on one occasion, I tore out several of the major news stories and went through them with a red pen marking every opinion and every unattributed fact. I sent it to them with an “F” on top and asked which journalism schools the reporters flunked out of before they were hired by the magazine. I never heard back, of course. Now, what “Newsweek” did has become so prevalent that many news consumers don’t even realized they’re often reading the reporter’s notion about the news rather than the news. When I mentioned the lack of straight news in a Facebook status update recently, one friend said “I know what you mean. That’s why I always rely on XYZ,” whereupon she mentioned one of the most biased news personalities in the business.

So, I lament the loss of “Newsweek’s” print edition along with everything else that used to be considered standard, solid journalism before the “happy news” and it’s foul cousin, “My uninformed view is just as valid as the expert’s informed view” kind of reporting took over.

Now, if you want facts, you’ve got to look farther and farther to find them. Rest in peace, “Newsweek.”


Announcing: New Paranormal Short Story ‘Cora’s Crossing’

coracoverI’m happy to announce the publication of my e-book short story “Cora’s Crossing” released this week by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Priced at only 99 cents, this Florida Panhandle ghost story is already available on Kindle, PDF on OmniLit, and in multiple formats at Smashwords. The Nook version will be available soon.

Ghost Stories as “Local Color”

If you do a Google search like “Florida Ghost Stories” or “Swamp Ghosts” or “Southern Ghosts,” you’ll get hundreds of hits for spooky stories, haunted cemeteries and houses, and ghost hunter expeditions. Stories and legends are, as authors and journalists often say, part of the “local color”—the yarns, history and experiences that make places unique.

Local color in Marianna, Florida, the panhandle town most tourists know as the home of Florida Caverns State Park, includes a local legend about the haunted Bellamy Bridge across the Chipola River a few miles north of the caves. The story has been around for over 150 years and focuses on a young bride who died when her wedding dress caught fire. Since then, she has—some say—taken up residence at the old bridge, and possibly at the wood bridges that crossed the river before that. Local historian Dale Cox writes about the differences between the legend and the real-life Elizabeth Jane Bellamy in his new book The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge.

“Cora’s Crossing” is Pure Fiction

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories in which everyday people suddenly run afoul of ghosts (and other creatures) out of local legends. Truth be old, when I last drove over Bellamy  Bridge, I didn’t see a ghost. However (and this is important), I knew better than to drive over it at night. In “Cora’s Crossing,” two young men do drive over it at night and find more than they bargained for when they discover an injured young woman on the shoulder of the road and learn that the people who put her there are coming back.

The Florida Panhandle is filled with remote coastal areas, swamps, blackwater rivers, and other locations that are perfect for ghosts. Growing up there, I heard hundreds of ghost stories, usually at night when we were on Scout camping trips. Most of them began with, “On a dark and stormy night not far from our camp site. . .” Nothing like falling asleep with a ghost story on your mind. My Boy Scout troop never met up with any of the ghosts in those stories.

But what if we had? Worse yet, what if I had driven my ancient Chevy over Bellamy Bridge on a rainy night? I promise you, I didn’t. This story never really happened. Feel free to go visit the bridge during a thunder storm. Everything will be fine.


Kindle Edition
Kindle Edition

If you’re a fan of ghost stories, you may also like “Moonlight and Ghosts,” a story about the ghosts in an abandoned psychiatric hospital.

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