Rumours About Christmas

Got a tip from a reasonably informed source: “The Christmas people are at it again.”

Even though it was March, I drove downtown in my 1950 A4 Checker (for you young people, that’s a car, not an Internet fact checker) in a cold wind that raged drunkenly beneath black clouds that looked like they’d been painted onto a frightening sky by Salvador Dalí during one of his less-lucid moments.

Arrived at the Max Value Department Store at high noon, heard a clock ticking, saw a used-up department store Santa singing “Do not forsake me oh my darling.” He waived as though we were the same kind of people even though we aren’t.

There was a line of Christman trees with bright burning candles in the store window (actually behind the window) hovering over a pile of brown pine needles, crumpled tinsel, last year’s gifts, and last year’s dreams.

I waited until September and drove downtown again, saw that Max Value had burnt to the ground, demonstrating the danger of placing candles on Christmas trees. Nearby stores that hadn’t burnt down yet due to the vicissitudes of mob looting that is no longer a crime in most cities, already had factory-fresh trees and garlands, ribbons and bows, stacks of toys I’d never heard of, and signs that proclaimed, “To Hell With Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving, we’re merrily geared up for Christmas.”

I felt lower than Jimmy Hoffa at the bottom of the river with concrete shoes.

Skipping Hallowe’en was fine with me because I think the holiday is meant for dead people. But Thanksgiving. Ignoring that day is a crime in enlighted cities that feature skies painted by Thomas Kinkade. My town was still stuck with Dalí skies, Piccasso streets, and Picasso people that had eyes in all the wrong places. It was obvious to me why nobody cared about Hallowe’en or Thanksgiving: the world was filled with people who can’t see straight or who are blind or who escaped from an asylum.

I walked up to a store manager and said, “It’s not even Black Friday yet.” He laughed like that evil doll in a movie I wish I’d never seen and said “Corporate Calls the shots. Next year, we’re putting up our Christmas displays during the dog days of August.” “I assume there’s a discount for the fleas,” I said. “Hardly. Folks give them to their cat-loving friends as gag gifts.”

I left before I got angry enough to kill him.

The clean-cut Santa standing outside the main door was so fat, I decided he was already eating turkey. When I got home, I heated up a roast turkey TV dinner, thankful that everyone who knows me won’t accept any cards or gifts from me because “I’m out of touch” and proud of it.

Jock Stewart

Special Investigative Reporter

Recent Title: ‘The Earth is All That Lasts’ by Mark Lee Gardner

“True West” calls The Earth is All That Lasts “The most ambitious American history published in 2022. For the first time, a major scholar of the West has distilled the known primary and secondary sources equally with heretofore unused Sioux Indian oral history, correspondences, memoirs, and interviews to create the finest dual-biography ever written about Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. … Through the final pages readers will have taken a literary and historical journey that will leave them with a greater understanding and perspective on one of the most heralded and written about cultural conflicts and wars in United States history.” 

The book, by Mark Lee Gardner (Rough Riders) was released by Mariner Books (Harper Collins) in June 2022 and is featured in the Montana Historical Society bookstore, though the retail price is lower on Amazon.

From the Publisher

“A magisterial dual biography of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, the two most legendary and consequential American Indian leaders, who triumphed at the Battle of Little Bighorn and led Sioux resistance in the fierce final chapter of the “Indian Wars.”

“Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull: Their names are iconic, their significance in American history undeniable. Together, these two Lakota chiefs, one a fabled warrior and the other a revered holy man, crushed George Armstrong Custer’s vaunted Seventh Cavalry. Yet their legendary victory at the Little Big Horn has overshadowed the rest of their rich and complex lives. Now, based on years of research and drawing on a wealth of previously ignored primary sources, award-winning author Mark Lee Gardner delivers the definitive chronicle, thrillingly told, of these extraordinary Indigenous leaders.

Crazy Horse, 1877, Disputed Photo – Wikipedia

“Both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were born and grew to manhood on the High Plains of the American West, in an era when vast herds of buffalo covered the earth, and when their nomadic people could move freely, following the buffalo and lording their fighting prowess over rival Indian nations. But as idyllic as this life seemed to be, neither man had known a time without whites. Fur traders and government explorers were the first to penetrate Sioux lands, but they were soon followed by a flood of white intruders: Oregon-California Trail travelers, gold seekers, railroad men, settlers, town builders—and Bluecoats. The buffalo population plummeted, disease spread by the white man decimated villages, and conflicts with the interlopers increased.

“On June 25, 1876, in the valley of the Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and the warriors who were inspired to follow them, fought the last stand of the Sioux, a fierce and proud nation that had ruled the Great Plains for decades. It was their greatest victory, but it was also the beginning of the end for their treasured and sacred way of life. And in the years to come, both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, defiant to the end, would meet violent—and eerily similar—fates.

Wikipedia

“An essential new addition to the canon of Indigenous American history and literature of the West, The Earth Is All That Lasts is a grand saga, both triumphant and tragic, of two fascinating and heroic leaders struggling to maintain the freedom of their people against impossible odds.”

According to  “American Heritage,” Gardner “An authority on the American West, Gardner has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, as well as on the History Channel, the Travel Channel, and on NPR. He has written for the Los Angeles TimesTrue West, Wild West, American Cowboy, and New Mexico Magazine. He lives with his family in Cascade, Colorado.”

–Malcolm

I’d like to see daily Thanksgiving rather than saving all the thanks for one holiday

When mother served us something for dinner we didn’t like and scarcely touched, he always said there are people in country X who don’t have any food at all. I wasn’t sure how cleaning up my plate would help those people, so after years of hearing her pronouncement I said, “Let’s just mail it to them.” That comment didn’t go well.

Other than those days when mother got into the locoweed and served something strange, she was a great cook 24/7/365. Even though she managed meals on a tight budget, we always had plenty to eat. The older I got, the more I realized that more people than not didn’t have plenty to eat. It made me think we should be thankful for what we had.

If one feels thankful, that feeling changes his/her life. Gone are the feelings of entitlement of rich vs. poor, our country vs. a third-world country, or working people vs. those who don’t work. I don’t think many of us can imagine what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes, much less find the empathy needed to truly understand those who don’t have what we have–so to speak.

Feeling thankful for what we have and how we live and how our friends and family are there for us doesn’t mandate our giving all of our money to worthy causes. I’ve written posts in the past about the fact many worthy causes suggest only $25 will help, but fail to consider that they are one of 50 charities that have approached us with the same rationale. I like Kiva because it lends money to people who are trying to help themselves. My donation by itself seems rather paltry but paired with hundreds of others, I believe it makes a difference.

I’m thankful for Kiva and the other groups who help those who need help. It gives us a way to reach out to thousands of people. Our lives are not perfect, but there is still much to be thankful for even though all of us meet up with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a matter of course: as part of life itself. I’m sitting here typing this post in a warm office with dinner in the oven. If I weren’t thankful already, I could start with that.

Malcolm

How to make art happen (or writing or dance or painting)

“The students are at the start of their creative lives, and I remember well what those years felt like — when you think you know what art requires, and then the realization comes that you must go deeper and deeper still (if you’re serious at all) into the unknowable, uncomfortable, vulnerable place where the root of creativity lies…which is to say, you must go deeper and deeper into yourself, which can be daunting indeed. Even now, after all these years, I still have days of sharp (or anxious, or befuddled) resistance to this act of deep surrendering…but the joy of age is that I know my own process now, the daily habits, practices, and mindset that will carry me past each block and obstacle and back into the work.” Terry Windling in “When the Magic is working” from Myth And Moor.

This 2014 post from Windling’s blog shows you why I like her work and why I return to her Typepad blog so often for fresh inspiration. I might also note that I read Theoroda Goss’ novels and blogs for the same reason. And so, too the former Endicott studio journal, featuring the work of Windling, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, and others. To read their work is to re-discover anew a deep well hidden in a sacred copse where magic lives in the deep water. Drink, and you’re transformed and living within, as Windling wrote, that deep and “vulnerable place where the root of creativity lies.

Life, as philosophers and comedians say, “ain’t easy.” The slings and arrows of daily life wound us again and again until the magic within our souls just about drains away. So we return to the well and drink again.

Every artist/writer/painter finds his/her own muse and his/her hidden well where s/he drinks and is refreshed. It might be an author (or group of authors) and their novels, essays, and poems; it might be the witch who lives down the street, or perhaps the “older generation” in one’s own family. We all must find the source of our magic and what makes it flow through our veins like holy fire.

You may not have anything in common with those who inspire you except for the inspiration they provide. None of the people associated with the blogs and studios listed above know me. We move in different circles. To great extent, they are interested in faerie and mythic worlds while I’m interested in contemporary fantasy and magical realism.

In time, the magic will live within you and you’ll find that you no longer have to return to that well (unless you’re sightseeing) to start your work. You will know what to see in your mind’s eye or how to adjust your breathing or your office or your desk because you will have done it so often that it will become, not second nature, but first nature. First nature for your art perhaps; or first nature for the way you live your life. The second approach works better for me: what I write on the page comes from how I live and what I believe rather than as a prop for making art.

I used to listen to music when I wrote. For one book it was “Nirvana Road.” For Another book, it was “Beneath The Raven Moon.” Music, I find, becomes associated with the work and with the magic behind it. Playing the music is like turning the ignition key in a car–or, these days, like holding down the brake while pushing the “start” button. Then things are purring at the right level and plain of existence, the writing flows because the magic is working.

Malcolm

Campbell

If you remember all that tapping in high school classes, you’re probably old

Do high school teachers still require writing short essays in class? Beats me. And, if they do, how are they written: pen, pencil, computer?

During “my era” we used pencils. Then, when I got into college, the writing-related courses had typewriters: that seemed like a quantum leap, and probably easier for teachers who no longer had to decypher their students’ bad handwriting. Unlike a room filled with laptops, a room filled with Selectric typewriters going at once was rather noisy.

Wikipedia photo

While some students typed like they were trying to poke holes in a pile of clay in art class, I typed fairly fast. Most journalism students did because we all grew up with typewriters. But this isn’t the tapping I’m talking about.

In-class essays were typically about something we purportedly read as homework and were usually a minimum of 150-200 words on subjects like “What was yellow journalism?”

For most students, the word count was more important than the content. So, they’d write a sentence or two and then count the number of words they had. They counted the words by tapping on each word with the point of their pencil. So, it was write, then tap tap tap tap tap, followed sometimes by a sigh when the student realized s/he was lightyears away from the minimum word count.

Naturally, these essays didn’t have a lot of unity, coherence, and emphasis because they kept going until the word count was reached. Finally, after all that tapping and counting up the words, the essay just ended. Most of the essays came back with a lot of red ink that spoke to a lack of organization. I hope NaNoWriMo entries aren’t written this way.

I can’t help but smile when I think about all that pencil-point tapping as students counted and re-counted the words on the page.

On the other hand, some students got to the minimum word count with ease, but ruined the essay by saying “Yellow journalism was caused by a mistake at the ink factory that turned black ink into yellow ink.”

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.” The sequel to “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande is available on Kindle, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Most authors write because they love it

‘The 2020 median pay for writers and authors was ​$67,230​ per year, with the most common entry-level education being a bachelor’s degree. In 2019, there were 131,200 working novelists in the country, and the job outlook for 2019 to 2029 is 2 percent, a small decline. The staff at Indeed posts that the national average salary is ​$49,046​ and ranges from ​$15,080​ to ​$127,816​. Many novelists are self-employed, so this salary will vary based on how many hours you’d like to work and how successful your works are.” – Chron

I’ve never seen money like that except on cops and robber shows where people walk around with suitcases of one-hundred-dollar bills. When I was a technical writer for computer companies, my salary wasn’t too bad. But when I retired from that rat race, my earnings didn’t soar into the James Patterson realm or even the realm of popular mid-list authors.

At my age, the gigolo business is no longer an option.

So, it (the writing) comes down to liking what we do and then guessing whether our royalties each month will be higher or lower than our expenses. Thank goodness for that Social Security check and my investments in diamond mines and oil wells.

We (authors) usually think what we’re writing is a lot more entertaining than the stuff going on around us in “real life.” I’m sure thinking that way is evidence of loco weed, bad whisky, or schizophrenia. According to the May Clinic, “Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling. People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment.” My lifelong treatment is writing novels (and meds).

They keep me as sane as I can get.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of satire, magical realism, and contemporary fantasy.

Etc. and &c.

  1. Fabiola Valentín (Miss Puerto Rico 2020) and Mariana Varela (Miss Argentina 2020) – CNN Photo

    According to CNN, “A former Miss Argentina and former Miss Puerto Rico shocked and delighted fans by announcing their surprise marriage on Instagram.” I don’t claim to understand it, but I do like imagining the horror of some who hear the news. In fact, some people will be so ticked off, they’ll probably whine on Facebook that they weren’t consulted. They did check with me and I said it was all right.

  2. Just in case it matters, I’m drinking Scotch while writing this post. I’m usually drinking red wine, but I got so excited about the news from Fabiola and Marianna, I broke out the good stuff.
  3. Our HRV finally starts up now that the dealership sheepishly admitted that they had sent the car out the door without checking the battery–which turned out to be crap.
  4. Yahoo “news” reports that we can “Save on JLo’s Booty Balm and other celeb faves at Sephora’s Beauty Insider sale.” I lived my whole life without knowing there was a product out there called Booty Balm and wish I were still innocent. Seriously, do people need to hydrate their butts? This stuff is supposed to fade imperfections for a “smoother-looking booty.” And, it’s clinically tested, so we know this product is based on science rather than magical thinking. I notice, however, that when I was looking at the Booty Balm ad, I didn’t see any before and after photographs of treated Booty.
  5. Fox News reported that “Biden blasted for new warning about ‘threats to democracy in midterms: ‘Their rhetoric is all a sham'” “During Wednesday night’s address, Biden focused his rhetoric on Republicans, asking Americans to vote for Democrats to protect democracy.” I like the old days when both major parties were trying to protect democracy. My feeling is that both parties have gone over the edge. And so have the news organizations that worship them.
  6. According to the Associated Press, “Musk: People banned from Twitter won’t be restored for weeks.” The story says that “Elon Musk said Wednesday that Twitter will not allow anyone who has been kicked off the site to return until it sets up procedures on how to do that, a process that will take at least a few weeks.” For me, this info is filed under the I don’t care category. I don’t need Twitter to survive.
  7. The New York Times reports that “The New Covid Boosters Are Incredible, and Everyone Should Get One.” I can’t say any more about it because the dreaded paywall showed up before I could read the editorial column. I have no idea whether the author works for Pfizer or Moderna or the CDC. I’m not rushing out for a shot (other than Scotch).
  8. According to a roundtable on The Onion, “As the oldest commander-in-chief in the history of our republic, the current president’s age demands a vigorous discussion to settle the question: Should President Joseph R. Biden run again?” This seems to be the consensus: “So go ahead and spit on me. Strangle me. Strip me naked and dog-walk me across the cement floor on a metal leash. Threaten my wife and children. Hell, murder my entire family. Nothing—nothing—will break my resolve. I will never reveal whether I believe Biden will have the mental and physical ability at 81 years of age to retain the most powerful office in the world.”

Well, there it is, the state of the nation at 4:57 EDT on 11/3/22.

–Malcolm

Why stuff is worse than it seems

If you follow objective news sources–and that takes a lot of looking–you’ll know more than most people about the issues you’re passionate about. But that would be a 24/7/365 job, and who can spare the time? So whenever I click on a website like Pen America or the National Parks and Conservation Association after a long absence, I always find that the issues these sites track are in worse condition than they seem. I blame Schrödinger for this because stuff getting worse is too scary for me to take 100% responsibility for its status.

Of course, if you don’t look at the websites or read the news, there aren’t any issues. Schrödinger and his cat taught us that. Most the people arguing about issues on Facebook and never checked out the websites, much less read/watched objective news. Experience teaches us that.

Truth be told, I think we can be passionate about a lot of issues, but need pragmatic restraint in choosing which ones to study in depth. I gravitate toward conservation groups and press freedom groups. This morning, I realized that I hadn’t been out to read anything on the Freedom of the Press Foundation site for a while. As the home page says, “Freedom of the Press Foundation protects, defends, and empowers public-interest journalism in the 21st century.”

I come from a family of journalists and followed in their footsteps. But even if I hadn’t, I would still support strong, neutral, and comprehensive journalism. Without it, we’ll have trouble maintaining our democracy because the only thing people would know would be the propaganda that comes from their political party of choice–and the “news” sites that support it blindly.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the erosion of our freedoms of speech and press. Obviously, I’m aware of that. But when I looked at the foundation’s site, I discovered that stuff is worse than it seems.

  • Outrageous social media laws await Supreme Court
  • In its quest to censor war reporting, the Russian government has dismantled all semblance of press freedom
  • Newsworthy leaks under attack in LA
  • Congress has a historic chance to protect journalists and whistleblowers in this year’s defense authorization bill
  • Supreme Court ruling limits paths for journalists to hold federal officers accountable
  • The extradition of Julian Assange must be condemned by all who believe in press freedom
  • Exploiting tragedy: Police in Uvalde and Buffalo clamp down on free press
  • Why press protections need legislative teeth, in DOJ’s own words

We take our freedom of speech and press as a given. So I don’t think it occurs to us that powerful groups, state and local governments, and federal agencies and individuals are constantly nibbling away at them. Most of us are aware of a lot of this, but cannot always cite specific examples. I look at this list and hope that I can make time to check the website at least once a week.

If things are getting worse, we can only speak out if we’re aware of them and how/why they are getting worse.

Malcolm

A character is alive or dead or both until the scene is written

If Schrödinger’s cat were my cat, I’d never open the box. I feel the same about a scene in my novel in progress in which Character A tells Character B that Character C is dead. I don’t want Character C to be dead, so I keep tinkering with other parts of the novel rather than writing that scene. (For those of you who worry about such things, Character C is not Lena the cat.)

Schrödinger proposed the cat in the box thought experiment in 1935 to illustrate the problems he saw with the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum mechanics.  In this interpretation, the cat will be neither dead nor alive until the box is opened. I prefer the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics because it makes more sense to me than the other ways of looking at the world. But it doesn’t solve my problem because it suggests the cat is both alive and dead when the box is opened and that each version will spin off into a different universe as the cat and the observer become entangled. The universes and those within them are not aware of each other.

Suffice it to say, I’m not writing a novel that branches into two sections, one that you read if you think the character is dead and the other if you think the character is alive. I’ve done things like that in the past with my fiction and readers don’t want to go there.  If I did go there, new universes would form, one in which readers finish the book and one in which they don’t.

Now that I’ve clarified the arena where my probable scene remains in limbo, you no doubt understand why I have not written that scene. At present, I either write the scene or I don’t. Either way, the probable universes are infinite.

Unfortunately, the plot–to the extent that I even know it–doesn’t work if Character C is alive.

Perhaps Character C can appear to die but still be around. I don’t think the Many Worlds interpretation allows for that. Or, maybe that happens in a third universe.

Right now, of course, there’s a universe of people who read this post and another one with people who didn’t. I have no control over that because that’s simple reality. As you can see, the role of the writer in this world (or any world) is more complex than it seems.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is either sane or insane. Until he’s released from the asylum, he continues to write books like Sarabande.

Our stories are like tourist destinations

If you’re a writer or a reader and have time to spare, I hope you’ll spend a few moments considering Sofia Samatar’s “Fiat Lux: On Literary Atmospheres” on the “Poets And Writers” Website. It’s one of their series of craft capsules.

At my age, I usually avoid these craft capsules because I know that the good and bad things I do with words will continue because, really, I’m not going to change. I almost didn’t read this article, but after a few words, I was hooked.

Words create places just as surely as the universe creates a river or a mountain. As Samatar puts it, “To write is to generate a space, with its topography, its temperature, the quality of its air.”

This is what we do when we tell a story.

Reality? Yes, I think so.

And like any other tourist destination, it is–for the reader–a real place just as surely as the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park are living and breathing locations. And like these places which we may visit more than once, we can visit stories more than once.

As Samatar sees it, “A question of rereading. Once you know what a book contains, why read it again? Because literature is not information. It’s an atmosphere, a location, a space, a landscape you can enter, with its own weather and light that can be found nowhere else.” And also: “Rereading means returning to a landscape: running down ill-lit streets, gliding through radiant fields, climbing up mountains buffeted by the wind.”

Every time I visit a place, whether it’s a friend’s or relative’s house or a widely known location in a travel guide, I see what I missed the last time I was there. The same is true of a novel or a story. It may seem finite inasmuch as the words on the page are the same every time I return. But I am not the same. I experience the story differently every time I re-read it; or, perhaps, I find myself interested in chapters and sections that didn’t wholly capture my attention the first or second or third time through the material.

As writers, we create real places we hope others will visit and one day return to for another look.

–Malcolm