Reading novels about magic seems to stir up magic

I’m reading Alice Hoffman’s novel The Book of Magic, unfortunately, the last in a four-book series that began in 1995. As I read, everything I know from studying magic comes to mind rather like hearing an old song brings to mind where you were and the people you were with when you first heard it.

I have no idea whether thoughts of magic are stirred up in the minds of most readers or just those who’ve studied magic. Maybe this happens with people who study other subjects. If you studied kings and queens in college courses, does reading novels about kings and queens remind you of what you learned in college and/or what you saw when you visited historic locations? Or is it just magic?

In Man in Search of Himself,” physicist Jean E. Charon wrote that works of art communicate via an innate knowledge shared by artist and viewer in a language that “awakens unconscious resonances in each of us.” At a deep level, I think, we recognize connections between what we know, think, and feel and the material we’re seeing on the page of a novel or nonfiction book.

If an author is writing the truth, the reader intuits that truth even in fiction and that awakens many memories. In a 2021 interview in The Writer, Hoffman said, “I don’t purposely pursue magic – it’s just part of the prose that I write. I grew up reading fairy tales and myths. For me, magic has always been a part of literature as a reader and as a writer. Magic doesn’t have so much to do with plot as it does with voice. For instance, you can tell a story in a realistic way, and if you’re Hemingway, it’s great, and it works. For me, magic is about the way the story is told rather than the story itself. It’s not a hocus-pocus influence in the plot. It’s more the tone of the story, the way the story tries to draw you in and create a fictional world. I’d like to add that I think the most important thing for beginning writers is to find their own voice.”

I agree with that. Since I do, Hoffman’s work resonates with me more than a novel that sets out with an overt plot involving magic rather than a story in which magic is one part of the characters’ lives. Those of us who write magical realism see magic as a normal part of life, a life that might otherwise be just as logical and rational as most of the people we meet.

For me, the shared knowledge with an author, as Charon sees it is strong when the subject is magic and less strong–to nonexistent–when the subject is black ops and police procedurals.

Like influences like, people say. They may be right.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” The audiobook, narrated by Wanda J. Dixon, received an Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine.

The question we didn’t ask Salvador Rolando Ramos or anyone else

According to police, Ramos bought his guns legally. That means completing the six-page ATF Form 4473 Firearms Transaction Record. The form appears thorough, though opinions about its scope vary. However, it’s missing the first question that must be asked: What well-regulated Militia do you belong to?

That’s what the Second Amendment requires even though many groups from the National Rifle Association to the U.S. Supreme Court would have you believe otherwise. And so, this form is mute about the first thing it should ask.

Some have said that membership in the state’s national guard should suffice even though historians say that a national guard is a form of militia that the founding fathers didn’t like.  Immaterial, inasmuch as there are many things in today’s laws and court decisions that the founding fathers wouldn’t like: their real or suspected opinions are not part of what constitutes legality other than the Constitution itself which, on this matter, states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That seems clear to me.

But the government, in its misguided view, believes we can ignore one-half of the amendment.  If membership in a legally constituted, government approved and recognized milia, including the national guard, were required to purchase a gun, would the mass shootings stop? Probably not. But I think there would be fewer of them. And that would be the beginning of a real solution.

According to CNN, citing the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 213 mass shootings this year so far. CNN’s tally says that Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, represents the 30th K-12 shooting in 2022 and that it is the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.

We lead the developed countries of the world in these shootings. Perhaps we should consult the wisdom of other countries. Or, correctly interpret and mandate our own Bill of Rights.

–Malcolm

Myth: you MUST write every day

“What has shifted over the years is that I take a lot more time off from writing. As a younger writer, I was really adhering to the mythology that, in order to be a writer, you have to write every day. As I’ve continued to age and trust that the writing will be there, I’ve moved into a space where I feel like if I don’t write for a couple of months, that’s fine. It doesn’t scare me at all.” – Ada Limón in The Atlantic

If you’re a newspaper reporter, documentation writer, a freelancer on a deadline, or in any other situation where you are working for somebody else, then you might need to write every day. Otherwise, you probably don’t.

Writing professors and other gurus have for years sounded like a broken record on the “write daily” mandate because (supposedly) if you don’t, you’ll lose your talent and skills, be treating writing as an occasional hobby rather than a job or avocation, heading for the gutter, turning to drink, and other horrid outcomes. I think that’s nonsense.

But, if you don’t think it’s nonsense and want to write every day, that’s wonderful as long as it’s working for you. I tend to rebel against absolutes and other “necessary” writing habits. For me, such absolutes are harmful because they clash with the way I view my avocation. If such rules clash with your personality and your art and craft, ignore them.

We are unique individuals, those of us who write, and in many cases, we don’t quite know how we do it. But if “how we do it” seems to work, then why corrupt the process by twisting it to fit with how somebody else does it? 

I think we do our best writing when we maintain our independence from those who keep handing out “writing rules” and dusty myths as though they’re gospel. We’re not working on an assembly line. It goes without saying (almost) that the work you are doing is your story.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series, beginning with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Korean War – all but forgotten

If it weren’t for the insane antics of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, we would probably never remember that a war–that’s technically not over–divided up the country. I remember the war because it was in the news when I was a child. Little to nothing was said about the war in my history survey courses other than President Truman firing General MacArthur in April 1951.

Even now, I think most viewers of “M*A*S*H” reruns assume the TV show was set in Vietnam even though the co-authored novel by a M*A*S*H surgeon (under a pseudonym) was based on this wartime experiences in the Korean War.

I research the war from time to time because characters in my novel Fate’s Arrows and in my short story “The Smoky Hollow Blues” (in the recently released Thomas-Jacob anthology The Things We Write) served in Korea. The novel in progress has these same characters, so I find myself wanting to know more about the near-disaster for the U.S. Marines at Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

You can learn about this battle online on more sites than Wikipedia, and they give a decent overview of the battle. Yet I feel it’s through the lens of somebody watching it from outer space. I can’t afford to buy books about the war just to fill in background information about my characters. Fortunately, I have most of Jeff Shaara’s historical novels including The Frozen Hours about Korea. The novel brings me a close-in view of what it was like to be fighting a superior-in-size Chinese force in sub-zero temperatures where weapons malfunctioned and frostbite was a killer.

I bought the book before I knew I would ever use it as a reference. I like Shaara’s work and probably have most of his novels on my shelf. As an author, I go everywhere I can for background information, and sometimes historical fiction works out very well.

Malcolm

Why you can’t go home again

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – Thomas Wolfe in You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home again because the home you knew no longer exists. And even if it did, the you who lived there no longer exists.

I never go to reunions because everyone there is a stranger and so am I.

Home isn’t always a place, the place where you grew up, had a summer romance, first saw the world clearly, or experienced fear and pain that impacted what you have become but not who you were during those moments that call out to you years or decades after the fact.

Home for a writer is often his/her first novel. For me, home has always been The Sun Singer.  The novel has one sequel and I had long thought to write another. But I delayed doing that for various reasons. Last year I decided to commit to the project. But it didn’t work. I’m not who I was when I wrote The Sun Singer, nor is the location in which it was set, nor are a thousand other variables that shaped the book and myself when I wrote it. None of those things exist now except in my imperfect memory.

I like a comment from a favorite poet of mine Ada Limón from a May 16 interview in The Atlantic: “We want to grow as artists, as human beings; we want to have more access to the workings of the world. So every book process changes for me, because every book is a new way of looking at the world, and a new me: I’m different every time, though I’m bringing the older self—note I did not say wiser, but older—to the process.”

Not to change, would be stasis. . .as a person, a spouse, an author. We have fresh eyes always. New influences. Experiences that changed us a little or a lot. If I tried to go home, however, I defined that, I would be a stranger in a strange land. The Sun Singer and its sequel Sarabande are as they are (or were) but the “me” I am today didn’t write them.

Change, as the I Ching tells us, is the only constant in the universe. We are better off flowing with it than fighting against it. Nostalgia draws us toward the past, but that past is an illusion, and trying to go there represents a failure to live in the present moments all of which want to have their say in our lives and our work.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasies “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande.”

PEN AMERICA CONDEMNS KILLING OF PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST SHIREEN ABU AKLEH, SHOT TO DEATH WHILE REPORTING ON THE WEST BANK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PEN America has issued the following statement from Liesl Gerntholtz, Director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom To Write Center, on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh:  

“PEN America condemns the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh today while reporting from the West Bank. For a journalist with a vest that clearly designated her as a member of the press to be shot in the head while reporting a story is a shocking affront. We call for an urgent, credible, and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting—including allegations that the Israeli military deliberately targeted her. Her killing illustrates the dangers faced by journalists all over the world as they do their jobs.”

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, had worked for the Al Jazeera network for 25 years.

See also:  CPJ calls for international probe into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing in West Bank

“Israeli and Palestinian authorities should ensure that the investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is swift and transparent, that all evidence is shared with international investigators, and that those responsible are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.”

Sometimes the research makes the novels almost too hard to write

Florida was a violent place of unimaginable racial turmoil during the early-to-mid 1900s, especially in the peninsula, and while I’ve researched this subject numerous times to check on facts for my Florida Folk Magic Series, reviewing all that again now for the novel in progress is making the novel almost too hard to write.

Some incidents are so extreme, that I cannot fathom a person (or mob) doing such things to another person. I need to take a deep breath and step away from this because the details make me sick. While I would never put the worst of them into my novels, I cannot “un-see” them, so to speak.

The worst incidents look like what would happen if the scum behind them read through the “medical” experiments conducted on living people by Nazi SS officer Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death.” I refuse to put such details into my work. And, I don’t have to do it because I’m not writing directly about the incident, but about people’s response to such incidents.

Yet, when writing about people fighting the KKK in Florida in the 1950s, it’s difficult to stay away from including characters discussing atrocities that were heavily covered by the press rather like characters in current novels mentioning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or, say, the highly publicized shooting that takes place in the town where a novel is set. Such references add depth to the novel, I think, by anchoring it in a real-time and a real place, and by showing what the characters think about the events.

Moore family home in Mims.

For example, the current novel-in-progress is set in 1955. One of the characters is an FBI agent who has just returned from a follow-up investigation into the assassination of civil rights activist Harry T. Moore in Mims, Florida. Moore’s house was blown up with dynamite on Christmas day in 1951. He and his wife were killed, and this we might say was the first assassination of an active civil rights leader. Florida would conduct multiple investigations for over fifty years. It appears that the perpetrators died of natural causes (and one suicide) before the initial FBI investigation ended.

I have to mention Moore in my novel. The problem, during the research phase, is that the bombing of Moore’s house is tangled up with other central Florida racial crimes. So, one sees a lot that one doesn’t want to see. I’m happy that most of it isn’t relevant to the plot of the novel. Yet, I still need to take that deep breath and maybe a Xanax and/or a glass of Scotch. You can learn more about Moore and his legacy here.

Those of us who research the past ultimately run into the very things we don’t want to see. That’s when we have to become editors and weed out the worst of the worst when it’s not on point to the story we are telling. Those who want to know more can follow our references to the greater truths.

The humanity within us calls upon us to do better. A writer can tell a story in which the protagonist triumphs over evil, or at least makes things better. That’s harder to do in “real life.” But we have to try, don’t we?

Malcolm

Mother’s Day Within the Sacred Circle of Life

MOTHERS CONNECT US ALL TO THE SACRED

Son of Osceola

“The Native American way of life understands the whole world as sacred. Family, tiyospaye, is sacred, the earth is sacred, and all of life has meaning in the interconnected, cangleska wakan, the sacred hoop.

“In this circle of unity, women are revered as beautiful and powerful because they are the givers of sacred life. They are grounded in Mother Earth and connected to Father Sky, bringing children into the world through the power of their life-giving love.

“Like Mother Earth, who provides everything we need to live and to thrive, the woman is able to give everything a human child needs. She nourishes, she loves, and she protects.

“Without women, there is no hope, no future, no carrying on of tradition and culture. This is why Native American cultures have always honored and respected women, elevating them to positions of reverence and honor in the tribe. Mothers and grandmothers raise the children, teaching them how to live life honorably, with respect for elders and for tradition.” – Native Hope

Our patriarchy doesn’t see the world this way, much less those we claim to honor on Mother’s Day. Since we don’t see the world this way, our world within our thoughts and the world of Mother Earth have become upside down and hurting. Some day, perhaps, Mother’s Day will be more meaningful than “give the little woman a box of chocolates and a nap.”

Malcolm

Those green books are poisonous

Libraries and rare book collections often carry volumes that feature poisons on their pages, from famous murder mysteries to seminal works on toxicology and forensics. The poisons described in these books are merely words on a page, but some books scattered throughout the world are literally poisonous.

These toxic books, produced in the 19th century, are bound in vivid cloth colored with a notorious pigment known as emerald green that’s laced with arsenic. Many of them are going unnoticed on shelves and in collections. So Melissa Tedone, the lab head for library materials conservation at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in Delaware, has launched an effort dubbed the Poison Book Project to locate and catalogue these noxious volumes.

Source: These green books are poisonous—and one may be on a shelf near you

As it turns out, old libraries with old emerald green aren’t the safest of places. What’s worse, I suppose, is learning that this pigment was also used in wallpaper, clothing, and paint of the walls.

The Victorian Era was living, figuratively speaking, in an early version of one of my favorite dark movies, “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

–Malcolm

 

Sunday pastiche

  • We’re having pork barbecue tonight made in the crockpot. What surprises me is the fact that the recipes came in a booklet supplied by Rival when we bought our first crockpot years ago. They took some care putting the recipe book together. That surprised us! Naturally, when we make this barbecue for somebody else, we don’t tell them we got the recipe from a crockpot company handout.
  • I found the autobiography by Dita Kraus, A Delayed Life to be a nice supplement to the novel version of her story in The Librarian of Auschwitz. She led a very interesting life, though I think this book probably works better for those who’ve read The Librarian of Auschwitz. Interestingly enough, she says very little about the books in her account of concentration camp life.
  • I need a drink. I bought a copy of L. T. Ryan’s Noble Beginnings to pad out my last Amazon order to get free shipping. And I’m exhausted because there’s more action per square inch than most books I’ve read lately. If this kind of stuff happens in the real CIA, our country’s in a lot of trouble.
  • I posted a link to this New York Post article on Facebook to see if FB would raise a stink about it or ban me. Nothing happened. Hmm. Might be a trick. It was my inspiration for my recent satirical Star Chamber Bureau post. I was shocked because this kind of bureau is the last thing I would expect from a liberal administration.
  •  I feel happy when I’m writing. But sometimes I finish a chapter and think “Yikes, what’s supposed to happen now?” Well, it’s always like that, but sometimes I’m sort of, er, stuck. Good news. I’m finally unstuck and moving ahead at flank speed.  Makes my day. If you’re a writer, you’ve been there.
  • What doesn’t make my day is the hourly influx of articles (many on Yahoo “news”) about the Kardashians. I don’t think I really know who they are or why they’re anybody. For weeks, I thought they were part of that gang of bad guys from Star Trek’s Alpha Quadrant, the Cardassians. As you can see from this photograph, it’s really hard to tell them apart. I guess some people are famous for being famous while others are more or less fictional.

Malcolm