Post-Christmas Thank You Letters

I learned as a kid that after we opened all the gifts under the Christmas tree, that my two brothers and I would dutifully be writing thank-you letters to the out-of-town relatives who sent us gifts. We had to appear grateful whether we liked the gifts or not. No sarcasm or honesty allowed as in:

Dear Grandpa and Grandma, Thanks for the unique shirt. I’ll be the only high school senior wearing a shirt that looks like this. In fact, I’ll probably get beaten up during phys ed class as soon as the school toughs see that I’m wearing a shirt that my history teacher Mr. Johnson says was popular in the 1930s.

Fortunately, my wife and I solicit and get lists of potential Christmas gifts from my daughter for the two granddaughters. So, we won’t make the mistake of sending them a damn shirt.

I have here three postcards thanking us for the loot. None of them contain profanity and/or sarcasm.

  • My daughter’s handwriting is strong, confident, and easy to read.
  • My oldest granddaughter, who just turned thirteen, writes strong prose in tiny letters. She could fit an entire short story onto a postcard and have space left over.
  • My youngest granddaughter still writes in large letters that I have to ask my wife to help translate. Cute, after I figure out what she said.

It’s been fun seeing my granddaughters’ handwriting evolve. They don’t know anything about cursive. Too bad, I think, but it’s not their fault. Kids’ handwriting starts out so big they can only fit two or three words on a postcard. Maybe that’s the point: “Hey, Ma, done already.” Then it gets smaller as they grow up. 

I know my daughter leaned on them to write these just as my mother leaned on me to write post-Christmas thank you letters. But I still like getting them. In time, they’ll outgrow the stuff we send and it will end up buried in a closet. But that’s okay as long as the gifts make them happy for a while.


Line Editing, Copy Editing, or Proofreading?

For guidance, I turned to the authority, the Chicago manual. Yet even that widely accepted all-knowing guide doesn’t make a distinction among editing levels: “Manuscript editing, also called copy editing or line editing, requires attention to every word and mark of punctuation in a manuscript, a thorough knowledge of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.”New authors are often confused about what level of editing they need, and rightly so. I hope to offer insight into the differences between line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Source: The Differences Between Line Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading | Jane Friedman

Authors, especially indie authors who aren’t used to the multiple editing cycles their work will go through at a major publisher, often consider hiring an editor, but then become unsure what kind of editing service they need to purchase. This blog helps make distinctions between editing types.

Copy, of course, is your printed-out or Word manuscript. A proof is your manuscript after it’s been laid out as it will look in magazine or book form. Generally speaking, proofreading is a search for the printer’s errors while copy editing is a search for the author’s errors.

So what is line editing and when do you need it? A good question. You’ll find a credible answer in this article in Jane Friedman’s blog.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” the fourth novel in his Florida Folk Magic Series.

Review: To Wake a Giant

To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara

 My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When General Billy Mitchell wrote a report in 1924 that not only predicted the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but how they would do it, it was rejected out of hand.

Those who've seen documentaries and feature films such as "Tora! Tora! Tora!" know before they pick up Jeff Shaara's accurate and well written "To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor" that military commanders and diplomats in the late 1930s and early 1940s continued to reject a Japanese attack out of hand.

Having read all of Jeff Shaara's historical novels, often about subjects I've studied, I'm accustomed to his impeccable research as well as the fact he makes history so human and readable that by the end of each novel, one feels like s/he was there. Unfortunately, some early Amazon reader reviews said Shaara's research on "To Wake the Giant" was sloppy. Subsequently, those reviews were shown to be inaccurate.

Unlike battles that last for days or weeks or months, the attack itself was short. So this book had to be a little different, focusing for many pages on the events leading up to 8 a.m. (25 minutes later than Mitchell's prediction) on the morning of December 7th, 1941. The events prior to the attack not only demonstrate the viewpoints of the major political and military players but show the attitudes of men serving onboard the Arizona and other ships in Pearl Harbor. Shaara shows the attitudes and emotions of those involved months in advance but while the attack is underway.

The human factor looms large in this novel and that's one of its major strengths. Once again, Shaara has put us into the action in a way we'll never forget. 


 View all my reviews

What did Daddy do during COVID?

The question used to be: “What did Daddy do during the war?” Perhaps now, it’s “What did Daddy and Mommy do during COVID?”

The answers might be, “Got sick and died,” “Lost their jobs,” “Got evicted,” or (possibly) “Wore a mask and hoped for the best.”

When people ignore the lockdowns, as they did at Thanksgiving and Christmas, more people end up sick. And yet, when people stay inside their homes, more businesses go bankrupt and more people lose their jobs. Will the vaccines rescue us? Time will tell. Some say we’ll be fighting COVID for years. I’m not surprised at that assessment.

And after all the precautions we’ve been urged to take, lately, the news is that things are going to get a lot worse. That’s not reassuring.

According to today’s news, Mitch McConnell blocked Senate consideration of raising the stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000, something the leader of his party is pushing for. Needless to say, Senators aren’t losing their jobs, worrying about health care expenses, or with their lifetime pensions, having money for the future. I guess we’re all supposed to be grateful for the crumbs our rich Senators and Representatives give us.

So, another answer for that did Daddy and Mommy do during COVID is “Got screwed by their government.”

I got a notice from the FEDs today letting me know my Social Security benefits are going up 1.3% Wow, what a difference that will make. <g>  Meanwhile, even though publishing had a decent year, what with people staying home and reading more books, that “decent year” mainly applied to major publishers.  The rest of us are seeing a giant downturn in sales.

So, another answer for what did Daddy and Mommy do during COVID is published new books that got lost in the shuffle. My $600 stimulus check (thanks,  Mitch,  you sorry bastard) won’t make up the difference. What kind of math are the Feds using?

More or less, Daddy and Mommy muddled through, waiting to see if their numbers were up or if they would make it to 2021. At my age, I’m surprised I’m still here. A lot of us feel that way.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four-book “Florida Folk Magic Series” that focuses on the KKK in the 1950s Florida Panhandle.

43 Writers’ “Rules for Writing”

Most writers have their own special “rules for writing,” even if they don’t talk about them. I find other writers’ rules fascinating, even when I don’t agree with them. A lot can be learned by reading about other authors’ approaches to writing.

The New York Times and The Guardian have published famous authors’ answers to this question on a number of occasions. The Guardian has a very long, disorganized article that collects many of the rules, which you can read here. This article is an attempt to organize that collection and to link to other authors’ rules as well, including more recently published authors’ rules on writing.

Source: » 43 Writers’ “Rules for Writing”

I’m of the same mind about this subject as author and writing coach Mark David Gerson (The Voice of the Muse). His writing mantra is There are No Rules. I agree. Rules for writing seem to me about as relevant as rules for enjoying a sunset or a kiss.

For those who, like the author of this article, find the rules of famous writers to be fascinating, this post by Emily Harstone in “Authors Publish” is the mother lode of rules. You’ll find Elmore Leonard, George Orwell, Neil Gaiman, Jack Kerouac, and even Nietzche. Nietzche’s rules begin with “Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.” I have no idea what that means.

Enjoy or be driven to drink, depending on your point of view.


Infinity, and beyond

“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” – William Blake

Writers are often sustained by words, sometimes their own coming upon them like magic and visions, more often by those of the great visionaries like William Blake. The words, of course, lead writers higher than their own fragile wings can carry them without the power of what is infinite.

Frontispiece to Jerusalem is a painting by William Blake


The words and art of William Blake (November 1757 – August 1827) often suffice for me. I am drawn toward the words of mystics and visionaries. To my knowledge, no living person has mastered the fictional power of Gandalf or the wizards-in-training at Hogwarts. We have not yet learned how to use the higher powers within us to stop a bomb from exploding in downtown Nashville or a plane from crashing or a building from burning to the ground.

Our natural tendency to hate those responsible for exploding bombs and other terrorist activities probably impedes our progress toward mastery of what Marianne Williams was speaking of when she said, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure” and what William Blake was speaking of when he said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

We are focused on the material close at hand, I think, rather than the larger picture of perception and what is behind the material universe we are aware of through our five senses. Until we grasp that larger picture, we’re not free, are we, and we will continue to view horrible events as fate or even the will of the gods.

When I look for quotations to post on Facebook before signing off for the evening, I find many soul-sustaining words. I choose Blake. Perhaps you choose Walt Whitman or Mary Oliver. No matter: the words that sustain us carry us higher than the sky where our destiny awaits.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories, including “Fate’s Arrows.”

Nashville December 25th

On December 25, 2020, a car bomb detonated in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, United States, injuring at least three people and damaging dozens of buildings. The explosion took place on 2nd Avenue North between Church Street and Commerce Street at 6:29 a.m local time (CST). Officials have characterized the explosion as an “intentional act,” with reports of potentially multiple explosive devices being investigated. The explosion was felt “miles” away from the blast site. The Nashville Fire Department evacuated the downtown riverfront following the bombing. Witnesses reported hearing “gunshots early in the morning and a message coming from an RV parked in the street warning anyone in the area to evacuate.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken over the investigation into the bombing. – Wikipedia

All we can do at this point is to ask “Why?”

And, due to the quick response of the police, there appear to be no casualties, thank goodness for that.

Perhaps it was too much to hope for that we would escape 2020 without another nasty event, another example, apparently, of the worst of human nature playing out in another public drama.

Sad news to wake up to on Christmas morning.


Mary Magdalen Painting in ‘The Little Mermaid’

I saw “The Little Mermaid” (1989) several years after it came out and after I had read Margaret Starbird’s 1993 book The Woman With the Alabaster Jar about Mary Magdalen. Having focused on Mary Magdalen, who would receive a greater public interest after The Da Vinci Code appeared ten years later, I recognized a famous painting of the Magdalen in Ariel’s grotto of treasures and wondered how it came to be there.

Called “The Penitent Magdalene,” (or “Magdalen with the Smoking Flame”) the painting is one of several with that name by French artist Georges de La Tour done in 1640. In the Disney film, Ariel is shown looking at the painting, most especially the candle, as she tries to figure out the nature of fire–not something she would know about under the sea. Was Disney, for reasons unknown, comparing the red-haired Ariel with the red-haired Mary Magdalen?

Not really, at least not intentionally (that we know of). Writing in his blog on uCatholic in 2019, Billy Ryan says that animator Glen Keane “picked out that painting because he wanted a picture, an image, of a fire underwater to go with the lyric.” (Click on the word “blog” above to see a still and a video clip of Ariel looking at the painting.)

Regardless of what Disney and/or Keane intended, Starbird–whose focus is the sacred feminine–saw a deeper meaning in the painting in the film in her 1999 article: “Of all the possible pictures available from art galleries around the world, it is incredibly significant that the directors of the Disney® film chose to place Mary Magdalene at the bottom of the sea, for it is SHE who represents the lost Bride and the archetype of the ‘Sacred Feminine’ as partner in Christian mythology.” (Click on the word “article” to read the entire article.)

Perhaps Keane, who was Catholic, was aware of the painting because of his faith. It would surprise me if, in 1989, he was consciously thinking of the sacred feminine for that terminology and line of thought hadn’t come into the national consciousness (other than scholars) yet.

We may never know whether the painting was a convenient prop or whether it was intentionally used to make a larger point. Starbird thinks the painting’s use was more than coincidental, however it got there. I hope she’s right.


Writers conceal first, then reveal (possibly)

In a news story, the important gist of the story appears in the headline and the lead. In a short story, novel, or investigative non-fiction piece, the important point(s) are concealed until the end of the book or movie. Two kinds of stories, two kinds of approaches.

Since many of our regular TV dramas were COVID-delayed going into production, my wife and I have found ourselves watching documentaries, including “History’s Greatest Mysteries” narrated by Laurence Fishburne on the History Channel 

The episode about the escape of John Wilkes Booth focused on whether or not he (or somebody else) was killed by federal troops while hiding in a tobacco barn and subsequently if any of the Booth sightings, marriages, and fathered children were real or myth.

Near the beginning of the program, we learned that the lore of several families included the possibility that Booth was part of their family trees and that this question was going to be solved once and for all by DNA analysis. Ultimately, the DNA analysis proved that the families interviewed on the program had no connection with Booth. 

We were told this at the end of the show. Had this been a news program, that information would have been at the beginning: FAMILY LORE ABOUT BOOTH RELATIONSHIP DISPROVEN BY DNA ANALYSIS. But, if the History Channel series had divulged that at the beginning, the rest of the program would have disappeared. So, they concealed the ultimate truth to keep us watching.

Likewise, a program about a professional search for the submerged remains of Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance showed an expedition into the dangerous waters of Antarctica with a powerful ship and cutting-edge equipment to locate the ship which hasn’t been found for over one hundred years.

Had this been a news story, the headline might have been: LOCATION OF ENDURANCE STILL A MYSTERY AS EXPEDITION’S EQUIPMENT FAILS. But, since the producers wanted to keep us watching, they concealed this point until the end of the program. The equipment, designed to operate at the pressure and temperature where the wreck lay all broke down. But, we kept watching, thinking the ship might be found with one last attempt. Nope.

While I can understand the need for an exciting, as-it-happened program, I always end up feeling cheated when I learn that the producers knew it failed before they started putting together their TV show or movie. I want to shout, “cut to the chase.” But then, I don’t feel that way when I read a novel because it’s more fun to go with the flow of the story than to have the author say on page one, “Everybody’s gonna dies before the last chapter, just saying.”

That spoils the story, doesn’t it? But non-fiction, hmm, I think I’d rather know the answers at the beginning and then see how those answers were discovered, news story style.


As I wrote “Fate’s Arrows,” I felt no remorse whatsoever as I concealed most of the story’s truths until late in the story. After all, I viewed the book as a novel and not a news report.  

Witless People Being Taken Away, ha ha

Washington, D.C. (Star Gazer News) – The U. S. Marshals Service announced here today the formation of the Witless Protection Program (WPP) to be run in tandem with the Witness Security Program (WITSEC) that was established in 1970. The new program will protect stupid people from themselves and will be administered under the FISA court system for the betterment of all humankind.

“If the clueless person in your apartment building suddenly disappears,” said Marshal Dillon, “it means a secret court has decided that happens to him/her is best kept secret.”

When several reporters asked if people can nominate witless folks who haven’t disappeared, Dillon said, “Sure, in fact, we encourage it.”

According to informed sources, the U.S. postoffice is working with WPP to allow witless nominations to be placed into USPS “Santa Mailboxes” where–the FEDS promise–there is “no video surveillance whatsoever ever.”

WPP program director Chester Goode told reporters that witlessness is a disease that requires compassionate treatment modalities designed to “fix these people up good as new.”

When asked what “good as new” actually meant, Goode said that it meant whatever the federal government wants it to mean when national security protocols are considered.

“We’ve got more protocols than you can shake a stick at,” Dillon added. “If you step on a sidewalk crack and break your mother’s back, you’re gonna be taken off the sidewalk by Homeland Security Agents. Ditto for a mother punching another mother in the nose while hanging out clothes.”

According to an ACLU spokesperson, the new program is as unconstitutional as cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels. 

“The ACLU’s got it bad and that ain’t good,” said Director Goode. 

–Story Filed by Special Investigative Reporter, Jock Stewart