Twelve years of hooey

A writer friend of mine posted on her blog that this year marked the blog’s 13th anniversary. I said 13 years + 2020 = play the Twilight Zone theme song.

I have no idea when this blog began because it started out on blogger–with a few posts on several other sites–before it began here in 2008. That sure is a lot of hooey.

I no longer have this old Jeep, but I wish I did.

Perhaps there have been a few interesting reviews, writers tips, and other ideas mixed in with the hooey. Occasionally, I go through old posts, updating links, and as I do that, I’m not sure which blogs are hooey and which posts make valuable contributions to “real life” as we know it.

Maybe that doesn’t matter since the word on the street is “nobody reads blogs anymore.” That means you’re not reading this post. That’s reassuring, isn’t it?

The good news is this: this post is not “real life.” I always put “real life” in quotes because I don’t know where dreams begin and end. So, chances are, you’re asleep now and when you wake up you might have thoughts of “hooey” on your mind but you won’t know why. (Don’t blame your spouse.)

Hooey or not, this blog has been fun, mainly because it gives me a place to talk about my books, other people’s books, and my crazy view of “real life.” I also enjoy the comments, other than the SPAM, that people make. You’ve probably noticed that I don’t write many political posts. Mainly that’s because those kinds of posts usually start fights and a bunch of comments filled with profanity. Not my idea of a good time.

Most of my books deal with magic because that’s the way I see the world. You’ve probably noticed that if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. But then, I think magic is a more viable way of viewing the world than subscribing to most of the political beliefs floating around lately.

The bottom line here, I suppose, is hooey. How much can you accept? And how much is the truth presented in outlandish terms? I may never know. But perhaps the hooey here will lead you to come of my contemporary fantasy and magical realism novels. Or perhaps it will lead you to drink moonshine. Either way, it’s got to be better than watching CNN and FOX news every day while eating Moonpies.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s latest book is “Fate’s Arrows,” a novel in which a young woman in the Florida Panhandle of 1955, fights the KKK.

Too Many Cows in the Yard

When we first built a house on a portion of the farm where my wife grew up, we frequently had cows in the yard because the old fence around the pasture had seen better days. Now, our neighbor has a new fence and we seldom see cows out on the road or our garden or the driveway.

The worst thing is when they get out at night. Black cows are hard to see in the dark, and they don’t mind running into people who are out in the roads and yards with flashlights trying to get them all moving back toward the break in the fence.

Cows are heavy. When the ground is wet, it doesn’t take them long to create a mud hole or put a lot of foot-sized holes in the yard for the riding mowers to get stuck in.

Since it’s 2020, I keep expecting to see cows in the yard again. Knock on wood. So far, nobody’s rung the doorbell and said those fateful words “Your cows are out” even though they’re not our cows.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” in which a young woman fights the KKK in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s.

If I can’t see you, you’re not there and it didn’t happen

Years ago, I lived in an upstairs apartment above a family with two children. Sometimes, while visiting in their living room, we’d see their youngest child emerge from the kitchen with a handful of cookies en route to his bedroom. He imagined that since he was walking in front of us with his free hand covering his eyes, we couldn’t see him and that the cookie theft never occurred.

I read an article in the New Yorker today, “Has Self-Awareness Gone Too Far in Fiction?” in which author Katy Waldman wrote, “These self-conscious times have furnished us with a new fallacy. Call it the reflexivity trap. This is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, idea that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault—that lip service equals resistance.” While, as she says, she confines her comments about this fallacy to books where she says that “Increasingly, characters seem to be rewarded for the moral work of feeling bad,” the message covers a lot of the self-examination speeches, essays, posts, and other confessions we’re seeing these days in the news and on social media.

Portland, July 2020 – Wikipedia photos.

Perhaps it’s the slip side of burying one’s head in the sand or covering one’s eyes while participating in a riot or watching a riot on the TV news. One form of covering one’s eyes seems to be saying, “I don’t live in Portland, so I don’t know anything about the nightly riots there, so none of that is my responsibility or problem.”

You can either say, “I wasn’t there, so I can’t help fix it” or “I was there and threw bricks through a few windows and torched a few police cars, but in admitting it to you, I’ve cleaned my plate, conscience, and soul, and am now a good person again.”

Actually, I remember another approach from the 1960s and 19070s: A discussion group that focuses on the ills of the world meets once a week at a member’s house where people have cookies and coffee or cheese fondu and Scotch and talk about the negative issues of the day. Everyone chips in, says how terrible it all is, complains that the government or the church or somebody or other needs to do something about it, and then they leave the house at the end of the evening with a feeling of accomplishment. That is to say, the members believe that talking about a societal ill is the same thing as working proactively to get rid of that ill.

I can’t quite decide which approach is worse. I hope that the discord flowing through our society is a realization that none of these approaches is healthy or humane–much less, a solution.

Malcolm

 

 

Too much sex in novels is boring

When we were growing up, we occasionally heard about sex books that were banned everywhere. “Banned everywhere” meant those books were must-read novels. We were usually disappointed because they focused on a bunch of people having various kinds of scandalous sex for hundreds of words. Yawn

In some of these books, having sex was the plot. In some books, there was a plot–let’s say it was about the good guys vs. the bad guys–that was constantly interrupted by people stopping to have sex. Of course, when you’re in middle school or high school, you don’t care about the plot.

Since most of us didn’t have a lot of experience (sex-wise) in those days, people in the books were constantly doing stuff many of us couldn’t figure out. Needless to say, we couldn’t ask our English teachers or parents what those characters were doing. It would be like reading a book that mentions the Cardi B song WAP (go look it up if you haven’t heard about it) and then going to mom and saying, “Exactly what is WAP?”

There are a few popular novelists writing decent books that keep bogging things down with sex. These books have actual plots. Whenever the plot is about to take an important move forward, the protagonist gets an attack of lust and the action stops while s/he has a night to remember with somebody s/he just met five minutes earlier.

I want to write to the authors that do this and suggest they put the sex in the footnotes. I’m sure it’s there to sell books. But it really messes up the storyline. Maybe I’m just getting old and find no joy anymore reading about gratuitous sex in the back seat of a Buick or even in a $1000-per-night hotel room.

In high school, such things were WOW. Today, they’re as boring as watching a fly standing on the ceiling.  Occasionally, I find an author who knows how to write about sex and, well, it’s like a miracle. But those books are few and far between.

When I was a kid, I found it amusing whenever a book was banned to hear that a long line of educators, philosophers, priests, etc., had read the book and wanted to protect the rest of us from reading the book. The same thing is happening today with WAP. Important people keep “accidentally” hearing the song or seeing the video and telling the rest of us how appalled they were.

I’ve never figured out how somebody accidentally reads a scandalous book or sees a scandalous music video. Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that those people are trying to shield me from the bad stuff.

Malcolm

 

 

Find Your Happy Place to Write During COVID 

COVID is changing a lot of people. I have seen a range of emotions coming out of folks craving normalcy.

What started off as families coming closer has turned into families tiring of the confinement and frustration. People who fear going out and about turn angry at those who have decided they’ll return to pre-COVID normal and continue on. Parents and teachers are fussing with each other over how children will return to schools, with both sides scared.

Source: Find Your Happy Place to Write During COVID | | FundsforWriters

Even if you’re not a writer, you need a happy place. If you are a writer, you need a place where you can block out the slings and arrows and polarized politics of the day and write stories that may ultimately help others cope with the world.

Hope Clark writes great novels. She also has great advice in her Funds for Writers website and her free weekly newsletter. Her words are always comforting, yet pragmatic. When it comes to happy places, we need to find one and keep writing.

Malcolm

Parents aren’t supposed to like one of their children more than the others

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Southwest Airlines used to raise eyebrows during the flight attendant’s monologue about the plane’s safety features when s/he said, “If the masks are lowered during a flight put yours on first and then put the next mask on the child most likely to support you in old age.” Or, “The child you like best.”

I thought of this when a friend asked several days ago which of my novels I liked best while acknowledging that that might be impossible to do. I can pick one even though that doesn’t mean I’m discounting all the others. I told her it’s Conjure Woman’s Cat.

Here’s why.

  • It represented a change of focus for me in that I finally decided to address a hot-button issue for me: racism, Jim Crow, and the KKK as it was in Florida during my childhood.
  • After focussing on contemporary fantasy and one satire, I embraced magical realism with a story that would give rise to two sequels (soon to be three) while exploring the folk magic that was all around me in the Florida Panhandle.
  • While two earlier novels, The Sun Singer and Sarabande, focused on the somewhat esoteric themes behind the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey, Conjure Woman’s Cat focused on backyard magic with a lot of folklore and a lot of ingredients close at hand.
  • I had a chance to do something unique and that was using a cat as the narrator. Why did I do this? Because, after having one or more cats in our household at all times for thirty-five years, I thought it more likely I could accurately write from a cat’s perspective than that of an African American woman who was (as she puts it) “older than dirt.”
  • My publisher, Thomas-Jacob, and I were lucky in that we found a wonderful and highly talented narrator in Wanda J. Dixon for the audio edition. She’s gotten rave reader reviews on Audible and a coveted Earphones Award Winner review from AudioFile Magazine. (“Most distinctive is Eulalie’s recurring sigh, which conveys her frustration with Florida in the 1950s, when Jim Crow laws and ‘Colored Only’ signs were routine.”)

Long-time readers of this blog know that I’m partial to Virginia Woolf’s statement in her novel Orlando: “In short, every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” I think that’s a given if an author is true to himself/herself. Yes, parts of me–my experiences and approach to life–live on in all my novels. But they loom the largest in Conjure Woman’s Cat.

The novel takes on more significance in my thoughts as riots and racism are looming large in the national consciousness–and major cities’ streets.

Malcolm

Does everyone re-imagine their past or is it just writers?

There are moments in everyone’s past that didn’t go well. Sometimes those moments grow out of our own mistakes and sometimes they seem like the so-called “cruel hand of fate” stirring perfect moments into swill.

Writers are used to saying, “What if.” So it feels completely natural to me when I happen to think of a bad moment out of the past to change it into a good moment. As if that moment is part of a novel, it’s as though I’ve changed my mind and I’m going to allow the protagonist to be happy rather than seeing them broken by criminals and car accidents and storms.

I like my re-imagings about such things so much, that they seem more real than what really happened. Does everyone do this, or is it just writers?

People say writers play God by moving their characters around like pieces on a chessboard. That’s not really true because my characters are more in control of their own destiny in my novels than I am. If a character wants to jump off a cliff, there’s little I can do to stop it.

Maybe a lot of us jumped off a lot of cliffs in our past and now we’re stuck with the memories of moments that didn’t go well–along with those that did go well. We can choose, I think, which group of moments defines us and what kind of attitude and belief system we project out into the world. Yet, playing let’s pretend is always tempting, like having Rhett tell Scarlett, “Actually, my dear, I do give a damn.”

So, too, I think back and pretend I didn’t hurt the people I hurt and that the people who hurt me changed their minds before they did it. To the extent that perception is reality, maybe our little games of let’s pretend alter the past in ways beyond our ken.

At any rate, that’s how writers see the world. I hope we’re not alone in this respect.

Malcolm

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I’m the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories.

At least he died with his boots on.

Any writer who starts to write “At least he died with his boots on” has got to know it’s an old cliché and doesn’t belong in his/her story unless s/he is writing a spoof. Assuming it’s not a spoof and assuming it’s important to say something that begins with the words “At least,” the author needs to take a breath and come up with something new to say.

And no, it’s not “At least he died doing what he loved” or “At least he took out ten bad guys with him.” I’m pretty sure “At least he died with his pants down” isn’t going to work either because that’s not new either.

Maybe it’s best not to have a character say, “At least he died. . .” like anything that smacks of that old cliché can possibly excuse or minimize what happened.

Moments ago, I came across the following: “The .44 was crap for long-range shooting, but Ramon liked. . .”

Where do you think that sentence is going? I knew before I turned the page because such sentences always end with “but Ramon”–or whoever–“liked working up close and personal.” Yawn.

Wikipedia graphic

Now here’s something that’s almost a cliché, though the exact words vary, “Detective Smith walked into the house where he three bodies that all looked like they’d been fed through the wood chipper in ‘Fargo.'” No, that’s not the cliché even though it sounds like one. What detective Smith actually said to his partner, Detective Jones, was “Jones, this looks like a home invasion gone bad.”

I’m really tired of that line. In the first place, it makes no sense. How can a home invasion go bad when it’s already bad from the beginning? Okay okay, maybe the invaders didn’t expect the homeowners to be waiting in the front hall with enough AK-47s to sink a battleship. Hmm, I think I’ve read that line before. Anyhow, so instead of killing the homeowners and grabbing the priceless Picasso (the painting, not the artist) off the wall, the invaders get smoked. Right, we’ve seen the word “smoked” before in this context.

Once upon a time, a reviewer (who wrote a wonderful review of one of my books) said, “I was just about to ding Campbell for using an ancient cliché when he said, ‘She shook loose her long hair…’ but I can’t because he took a sharp turn here and wrote ‘that mixed with the stuff of clouds.'” There are a million clichés that begin with a woman shaking loose her hair. I don’t know why they’re always going that. But if they have to do it in your book, they don’t have to do it in the same old way we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Fresh and knew just isn’t that hard to say.  So if you really need to say, “At least he died with,” then forget the boots and doing what he loved, and say “at least he died with a raspberry popsicle in his mouth” or “with a spare coral snake in his back pocket.”

See, those lines sound factory fresh and I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen either of them before.

Malcolm

Click on my name to check out my Amazon page.

Remembering two of the best: Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

George Simon Kaufman (November 16, 1889 – June 2, 1961) was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals for the Marx Brothers and others. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the musical Of Thee I Sing (with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin) in 1932, and won again in 1937 for the play You Can’t Take It with You (with Moss Hart). He also won the Tony Award for Best Director in 1951 for the musical Guys and Dolls. – Wikipedia

After working several years as a director of amateur theatrical groups and an entertainment director at summer resorts, he scored his first Broadway hit with Once in a Lifetime (1930), a farce about the arrival of the sound era in Hollywood. The play was written in collaboration with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman, who regularly wrote with others, notably Marc Connelly and Edna Ferber. (Kaufman also performed in the play’s original Broadway cast in the role of a frustrated playwright hired by Hollywood.) During the next decade, Kaufman and Hart teamed on a string of successes, including You Can’t Take It with You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Though Kaufman had hits with others, Hart is generally conceded to be his most important collaborator. – Wikipedia

As my wife and I watched Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take it With You,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Kaufman and Hart, I thought back to how insular we were before the Internet and Satellite TV networks. Now we can watch all the old movies and research where they came from.

Growing up, I knew nothing of Kaufman and Hart even though they “owned” broadway for years and had worked on projects from the Marx brothers comedies to Camelot. I happened to hear of them in 1961, the same year they both died.

I went to a high school journalism institute at Indiana University in 1961, and one of our special trips was to the famous Brown County Playhouse, owned at the time by a foundation association with IU. On stage, that night was “Light Up the Sky” by Kaufman and Hart. What a hoot. And I wondered then, just who are these people that can write such wonderful (and humorous) dialog?

When I got home, I raced out and bought a copy of Hart’s autobiography Act One. For a Florida boy who knew nothing about Broadway and the world of plays, it was an eye-opener. It would be years before channels like Turner Classic Movies came along and allowed me to see the work of Kaufman and Hart. Somehow, it’s had an impact on me, my sense of how writers write, and produce what we go to the theater to enjoy.

Somehow, I have a feeling that in this fast-paced world when the Internet and satellite TV make so much available, that most people have never heard of either of these playwrights. What a shame. For me, learning about them was part of growing up and becoming a writer–and one who can finally enjoy what they wrote.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire “Special Investigative Reporter” which, he hopes, might remind some people of the dialogue of Kaufman and Hart.

 

 

 

 

Book is done: should I throw a wrap party?

Authors react in a variety of ways to the completion of a book.

Some are at loose ends because their days and nights have been filled up with time spent working on the manuscript. Others feel empty: the plot and characters have been on their mind for so long, and now poof, they’re en route to the publisher. Multitasking authors already have a new book in mind and can jump right into it, staying busy rather than fretting about the book’s completion.

I started work on Fate’s Arrows two years ago, then got derailed for a year of cancer treatments, followed up by feeling bogged down by the virus and the nightly riots. I’m a bit of an empath and I write intuitively, so all kinds of stuff can become disruptive before a manuscript if complete.

Typical wrap party

When the production of a film is complete, cast and crew often attend a wrap party to celebrate reaching the finish line. Pat Conroy once said that a team of fifteen or more people helped with his books: editors, cover artists, book designers, fact-checkers, permissions people, publicists, etc. But, here it’s just me. Well, there is my publisher, but she lives in central Florida and probably isn’t going to meet me at the Rome, Georgia Applebee’s for a wrap party with our spouses. (I’ve urged her to buy a company jet to make traveling faster than the family car.)

I can’t very well invite the characters over since they exist in my mind and on paper. There’s probably a state law against having a party with imaginary people. In his novel The Outsider, Stephen King mentioned author Harlan Coben a number of times. Maybe Harlan came over for drinks when the book was done. Sadly, I didn’t mention either Stephen or Harlan in Fate’s Arrows. If I had, I’m sure they’d meet me at the Rome, Georgia Applebee’s. (They probably have their own planes.)

So, I’ll probably boil some water in the Dutch oven, toss in some macaroni, and fix Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner, and tell my wife and cats, “well folks, that’s a wrap.”

Malcolm