Online harassment remains high, but there’s help

“Roughly four-in-ten Americans have experienced online harassment, with half of this group citing politics as the reason they think they were targeted. Growing shares face more severe online abuse such as sexual harassment or stalking.”Pew Research: The State of Online Harassment (Click on the link to read the report.)

Pew Research defines online harassment as:

  • Offensive name-calling
  • Purposeful embarrassment
  • Stalking
  • Physical threats
  • Harassment over a sustained period of time
  • Sexual harassment

Online Harassment Field Manual“Whether you’re experiencing or witnessing online abuse, this Field Manual offers concrete strategies for how to defend yourself and others. We wrote this guidance with and for those disproportionately impacted by online abuse: writers, journalists, artists, and activists who identify as women, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQIA+. Whatever your identity or vocation, anyone active online will find useful tools and resources here for navigating online abuse and tightening digital safety.” – PEN America

Launched in 2018, the field manual offers tips in two general areas, “Safety and Security” and “Community and Counterspeech.”  The manual will teach you how to (a) Prepare for online abuse, (b) Respond to online abuse, (c) Practice Self-Care, (d) Review legal considerations, (e) Request and Provide Support, and (f) Learn about what constitutes online abuse.

PEN provides a list of additional resources here.

PEN considers writers at risk to be a separate focus issue. “PEN America and its Members advocate on behalf of writers at risk globally, rallying to their defense and promoting the freedom to write through direct support, advocacy, and behind-the-scenes assistance. PEN America also tracks detained writers in its annual Freedom to Write Index, and catalogues historic cases in the Writers at Risk Database.” Learn more here.

In an article several years ago on The Conversation “Fighting online abuse shouldn’t be up to the victims,” the author said, “Perhaps the most important element to addressing online harassment is behaving like it is happening in the ‘real world.’ Abuse is abuse. Online spaces are created, shaped and used by real humans, with real bodies and real feelings.”

I agree with that and believe none of us should sit alone at our phones and computers and suffer from online bullying in silence.



Don’t put all your research into the book

For years, people have made fun of The Da Vinci Code for containing so many mini-lectures about subjects having to do with the Holy Grail. I suppose Dan Brown thought readers wouldn’t understand the plots and themes without all the background material. I thought it was distracting.

A laptop computer next to archival materialsI just finished another book by an author I like whose main character kept calling an expert about cults in an attempt to learn which ones are harmless and which ones aren’t. I don’t really think the extended information advanced the story. The information did relate to the plot, but it didn’t need to be in the book.

It’s almost as though the author became fascinated by cults and decided that the reader would also be fascinated by them. Not really. And, if so, we know how to use Google, the library, and the resource books available at Amazon and elsewhere.

When an author does this, critics often say “your research is showing.” Some critics even might suggest that the author wanted an excuse to talk about, say–cults, and wrote a novel to include what s/he had learnt about them. How much is too much. That’s a hard call to make. The detail can add ambiance while making the plot more understandable.  And yet, you don’t want readers to feel like they’re reading a research paper.

Lack ops books are famous for including a ton of information about weapons and weapons systems. Perhaps publishers and readers demand it. I like black ops novels but usually, skim over the weapons’ specifications. They don’t matter to me.

Every genre seems to have reader expectations about this kind of detail. Books about famous battles are, of course, historical novels and are expected to provide that history. Other books are, I think, better suited to using a lighter touch.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea,” a Vietnam war novel set on board an aircraft carrier on which he served during that war. I included research-type information for background but kept it within the confines of what sailors in that situation would actually say in conversation. The cover picture comes from a photograph I took of the aircraft carrier’s flight deck.

Malcolm, buy this and we’ll show you how to predict the future

Years ago, we all said everything is now. Oh, and a few memories about how each of us perceived that “now” at one intersection of time, space, and mind or another.

So, when somebody wants a stack of money from me to show me how to predict the so-called future, I don’t quite know how to respond to that other than “I think not.”

Typically, we assume time works like the drawing shown here. That means that the astrologer, psychic, tarot card reader, or snake oil salesperson wants to give me a peak into that cone at the top of the drawing.

Their deals always leave something out of the magic answer:  me. To put it simply, when a person tells me s/he will give me insight into the future, they’re telling me what I’m going to do tomorrow and next week. Like I don’t know that already. I have a calendar on my desk with stuff written on it for the upcoming days, weeks, and months. If somebody breaks into my house, looks at that calendar, and sends me notes about what they see, they believe they’re providing me with a valuable service. At a premium rate.

The “I’ll Show You The Future” spam plays on people’s fear that the so-called future is already set up by forces unknown and we’re at its mercy. If we’re at anyone’s mercy, it’s ourselves because everything that shows up in that cone at the top of the drawing is what we put there.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories.

Writing, my time machine

The road on the cover of Conjure Woman’s Cat is an artist’s conception of an unpaved piney woods road and yet, I have driven down that road hundreds of times.

For most children in my growing-up world, nothing of consequence happened inside a building. Play, and the imagination that fueled it, was our true reality. Authors and other artists tend to hold onto that belief longer than most, often for a lifetime.

So, when I write, I’m sitting in a time machine that takes me back, as all country roads do, to the roads of my coming-of-age reality, a world outside the claustrophobic confines of the house where I lived in a middle-class white neighborhood to the great freedom of the woods, rivers, swamps, and Gulf coast far away outside the front door.

Life actual, the consensus reality inside the buildings, featured me dutifully sitting in a classroom or church pew, doing homework and chores, taking tests, and in every way that mattered to the establishment, acting like a normal kid en route to becoming a drone when it came time to go off to war or go off to the office.

Life in truth,  where imagination is more important than cold, hard facts, is the fabric of my books, coming from a world where I camped and hiked in the piney woods, sailed between Florida’s barrier islands, and drove hundreds of miles a week along unpaved roads in my unreliable 1954 Chevy. In this world, I learned who I was as opposed to life actual where I didn’t want to be.

Writing the books in the Florida Folk Magic Series takes me back to the part of my childhood and young adult years where the “real me” lived and breathed and learned the magic that would sustain me (even inside buildings).

Some say you can’t go home again. What a crock. I go home every time I write. Home is like that picture with the egret in it. I knew every nook and cranny of the Florida Panhandle because I hiked, drove, and variously wandered through it when I escaped from my house and my schoolroom. The events in the stories are “fiction.” Nonetheless, I was there to the extent that even to this day I find the world of piney woods and conjure more real than my life in school, home, and church.

Writers are often hard to get to know because of their split personalities, 10% based within consensual reality and 90% based within the realm of dreams. In general, we prefer the world of dreams, dreams that include our stories and the characters that appear in them.  We’re not easy to know or to live with because we’re always somewhere else and because we think consensual reality is an illusion.


Religious jokes: Good clean fun or offensive?

Comedians on the old comedy circuits used to tell plenty of religious jokes, usually about their own religion or denomination. The habit was still going strong during the years of “The Tonight Show” in Steve Allen’s tenure and Johnny Carson’s tenure. I thought most of the jokes were funny.

Now, with so much hatred in our world, I wonder if those jokes can still be told. I think we should still be able to tell them, but worry that they might be taken as an offensive attack rather than a lighthearted jest aimed at the foibles of our own or our friends’ beliefs.

Perhaps our concern about the jokes tells us just how rampant the hatred has become. Rather than friends laughing at their differences, we seem to have become enemies attacking each other over things that don’t matter or things that seem threatening now to live as we know it.

This joke, from 58+ Quirky & Hillarious Baptist Jokes, is the sort of thing I’m talking bout: “After the plane took off, the cowboy asked for a whiskey and soda, which was brought and placed before him.

The flight attendant then asked the preacher if he would like a drink.

Appalled, the preacher replied, “I’d rather be tied up and taken advantage of by women of ill-repute, than let liquor touch my lips.”

The cowboy then handed his drink back to the attendant and said, “Me too, I didn’t know we had a choice.”

So, do you laugh or do you say that such jokes aren’t woke?

Or this, from Brentwood Presbyterian Church:

A woman visitor to a Presbyterian Church was disrupting church one day with your enthusiastic yelps of “Praise God!” and “Hallelujah!” One of the ushers tried to quiet her down. He tried to explain to her that she was disrupting the worship service.

“But mister, I got religion!” The woman proclaimed.

“Yes, madame,” replied the usher. “But you did not get it here!”

I see the humor in that. I grew up in the Presbyterian church and knew that we were fairly boring to the members of other denominations, especially the Southern Baptists whom we thought really overdid the gaudy decorations in their church.  The Methodists had two pulpits for reasons we didn’t comprehend, so we assumed it allowed the ministers to speak out of both sides of their mouths.

Growing up, I poked fun at the Presbyterian Church’s historic belief in predestination, including the concept of election, a philosophy that asserted those going to Heaven and those going to Hell were predetermined and unchangeable. My approach to this was that it didn’t matter whether we went to church or not since our fate was already engraved in stone. My parents and minister didn’t like my view, but then I was quoting doctrine.

So, what’s your take? Can I still say I’m giving up sobriety for lent or is that something I shouldn’t say?

As a writer, I always like to push the envelope–or perhaps destroy it–but the hatred of the times keeps trying to keep us in line.


Listen to your muse–or your subconscious or your dreams when you write

If you want fresh ideas for your novel or short story in progress, keep the work on your mind, at least sort of while you’re doing repetitive tasks or end up watching a boring TV show. (I’ve learned that it’s not good to do this while you’re having a conversation with your spouse.)

Keeping the story in mind during times when I’m not facing the pressure of a blank screen seems to bring ideas to mind that I hadn’t thought of before. Quite often, they’re about something a character should do or say in the scene I’m about to write.

Most writers I know choke up–rather like the batter in a world series game who finds himself facing the ace reliever on the other team–when they start a new chapter. It’s as though the page break at the end of the previous chapter has turned into a scary threshold and now the ideas just won’t come.

I usually wait a day or so before starting a new chapter. That gives time for my muse, so to speak, to supply some ideas for jump-starting the action.  When I’m not sitting at the PC, a treasure trove of ideas comes into my thoughts out of nowhere. These are pure cold and much better than anything I would have come up with while staring fearfully at the screen.

According to Wikipedia, “In modern figurative usage, a muse is a literal person or supernatural force that serves as someone’s source of artistic inspiration.” I prefer the supernatural force explanation. The muse in the painting, who works with sacred poetry, is Polyhymnia. My muse is much more up-to-date.

Somewhere or other, I have a post out there in which I said that I rejected the idea of an author’s muse because those portrayed by artists always seemed to be fragile women who were dying of consumption. As it turned out, a character in one of my older novels became the personification of my muse. She’s really badass.

I don’t try to visualize this character while waiting for book ideas. I just think about the work in progress and Siobhan always shows up with the ideas I need to get back to work.

Does this sound weird or does it already work for you?


Malcolm R. Campbell’s muse got really snarky while he was writing “Special Investigative Reporter.” That’s probably why the AudioFile Magazine reviewer said, “The story is high on humor but light on plot–a vehicle for sex, cigarettes, steak, and zinfandel.”

Are we as weak as the ‘modern sensibilities’ advocates think we are?

Roald Dahl’s estate and publisher are “cleaning up” parts of his books so they can continue to be enjoyed by people with “modern sensibilities.” This has caused a backlash, but the changes will probably go through.

The revisions are an outrage that I hope isn’t going to be applied to all books written in the past that use descriptions from authors and norms that were the product of their times.

Published by Penguin, so it should be an undamaged version.

The gist of the thing is that apparently writing or saying anything that offends anyone on the face of the earth is immoral. Well, that view pretty much kills debate, new ideas, and most fiction.

Those advocating not offending anyone have learned the power of mob action and well-financed protests. They don’t care about the “bad words,” they care about the message itself. So they claim XYZ offends them. My response is “so what?” I have the right to say what I believe even if people don’t like it. The “modern sensibilities” advocates purport to believe, for example, that if a fat child reads about a fat child in a story, that fat child will probably be scarred for life. Sorry, I don’t buy this.

A BBC story about the changes to Dahl’s books includes the following quote:

“Laura Hackett, deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times, said she would continue to read her original copies of Dahl’s books to her children in all ‘their full, nasty, colourful glory.’

“‘I think the sort of the nastiness is what makes Dahl so much fun,’ she told 5 Live. ‘You love it when, in Matilda, Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to eat that whole chocolate cake, or you are locked up in the Chokey [a torture device] – that’s what children love.

“‘And to remove all references to violence or anything that’s not clean and nice and friendly, then you remove the spirit of those stories.'”

Salman Rushdie said on Twitter that  “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

And they should be. They are doing something that I believe is unethical, misguided, and offensive.

We’re all doomed.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of an anti-KKK series of novels set in the 1950s that uses the language and beliefs of that period. If this bugs you, don’t read the four books in the series.

Sunday’s Gumbo

  • Some people make what they call “gumbo” with filé powder and no okra. I cry foul. “Gumbo” is a synonym for “okra,” so if you’re using that powder and no okra, what you have ain’t real gumbo. My 2¢.
  • While waiting for two Kristin Hannah books to arrive, I’m enjoying re-reading Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. I first read it in 2016 so by now I’ve forgotten so many details, it’s almost like reading a factory-fresh new book. From the publisher: Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes. During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is―as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences. From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.
  • According to a Facebook meme, we’ve left spy balloon season and entered train derailment season.
  • It’s sad to see former President Jimmy Carter going into hospice care. My wife and I met Rosalynn Carter when she gave a wonderful mental health-related speech at the Atlanta History Center. After the talk, she walked through the audience row by row and thanked each of us for coming. Her hand was so fragile I felt like I might inadvertently crush it. Her smile though and her focus on each of us when we shook hands–those were indestructible. I’ve been impressed by the Carters’ long-time support of Habitat for Humanity, including going on-site and hammering nails.
  • Note Number Two: It really irks me that they (whoever they are) took the ¢ sign off the computer keyboard. It seems more useful than the + sign which is still there. In the 1950s, we would have said that commies were responsible for this conspiracy. Now, I’m guessing it’s some neo-whatever group.
  • Dear Ingram: Every time you raise printing prices, we have to redo covers and update the price of the books in the bar codes and on the site. This is a real hassle. Think of the price you first charged us as similar to rent control and engrave it in stone for all time.
  • Aw shucks, none of my books made it onto PEN America’s literary awards list of finalists. With a share of PEN’s $350,000 in total prize money, my publisher wouldn’t have to worry about the costs of updating our Ingram covers.
  • I was all set to drive a $70,000 Plus Six Morgan off the lot when my wife steered us to the Honda dealership where we bought a 2019 HRV at a fraction of the cost. My realities don’t match my dreams. Of course, if we’d bought the Morgan, we would have needed to clean out the garage so that at least one car fits in there. So, there is that.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire novel “Special Investigative Reporter.

Literary News: PEN America Awards


Event Convenes Stars of Literature, Entertainment, and Media in Celebration of the Past Year’s Best Writing, Conferring Over $350,000 in Awards


(NEW YORK)—PEN America today announces Kal Penn, the acclaimed actor, author, and former Obama White House aide, as host of the 60th annual PEN America Literary Awards, to be held Thursday, March 2, at The Town Hall (123 W 43rd St) in New York City. This year’s ceremony exemplifies the event’s recent growth into a preeminent gathering of the city’s writing, publishing, entertainment, and media luminaries with passionate book lovers to bestow some of the most significant prizes in literature. The red carpet opens at 6pm, followed by the ceremony at 8pm. Tickets, starting at $15, are on sale now at

This year’s star-studded lineup of career-achievement award winners, presenters, and performers will be announced soon.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief program officer for Literary Programming at PEN America, said, “Kal Penn epitomizes PEN America’s belief in the capacity of writers and artists to instigate social and political change. His illuminating, often hilarious 2021 memoir You Can’t Be Serious reveals in candid prose a life and multi-hyphenated career—including a hiatus from acting to do crucial work at the White House—that sets an example for civically engaged artistry. He is the perfect person to lead a captivating evening celebrating exemplary literature—while considering the urgent societal concerns within many of these books, and the work PEN America does in advocating for free expression year-round.”

Described as “the Oscars for books” by past host Seth Meyers, the PEN America Literary Awards feature speeches, live music, theatrical performances, and a moving In Memoriam segment honoring the literary greats lost over the last year. Writers and cultural visionaries will present 11 book awards and three career-achievement awards: the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature; the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. In the past, the ceremony has been enlivened by powerhouse talents such as Christine Baranski, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Eisa Davis, Jackie Sibblies Drury, André Holland, Kenneth Lonergan, Elaine May, Cynthia Nixon, and Tom Stoppard. Finalists for all book awards will be announced later in February, and all winners will be revealed at the ceremony. See PEN America’s previously-announced longlists for the book awards here.

The PEN America Literary Awards recognize both established and emerging writers and are remarkably effective as identifiers of early talent. PEN America’s awards were among the very first to recognize Chang Rae Lee (1996), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer (2002), Imani Perry (2019), and countless others. Lisa Ko’s The Leavers went from winning the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, an award that honors an exceptional unpublished manuscript, to being a national bestseller.

Spanning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, and translation, the books celebrated at the awards are dynamic, diverse, and thought-provoking examples of literary excellence. By the end of the evening, PEN America will have conferred more than $350,000 in awards to writers and translators.

Each award is juried by panels of esteemed authors, editors, translators, and critics. These judges, selected with the help of the PEN America Literary Awards Committee, hail from across the world and represent a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and literary pursuits, with some award-winning writers themselves—including Lauren GroffKimiko HahnJohn McWhorter, and Erika L. Sánchez, and many more.

NOTE: You can see a list of categories and finalists here

I need a continuity assistant

Since I write without a plan, I seldom note down what a house (for example) looks like inside or out. I mention the things that matter as the scenes unfold, but later I have no memory of the furniture or the front porch, or the rooms. The problem here is that when people come to that house two books later in the series, I don’t know what they’re seeing–much less what they’re sitting on.

This means laboriously going through the Kindle versions of my books and taking a lot of notes about the house’s style and furnishings. The time I save by not taking notes about settings in novel one is more than used up while finding out what’s what by reading through earlier material while writing novels two, three, and four.

For some reason, I always think I’ll remember the details. I seldom do because they’re created on the fly as the action unfolds. People catch continuity problems in movies all the time. The sofa in a scene is red, then it’s suddenly blue in the next scene and not even there the next time people go into the living room.

The last thing I want is readers telling me that a house–or even a sofa–keeps changing color from book to book. Or somebody’s hair or eye color. In “The Big Sleep,” Bogart said of his manners, “I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.” I could say the same thing about my writing habits.

They help me write book one. They’re a detriment in the books that follow. That’s why I need an assistant to make a list of the houses, people, &c. in each book and send it to me as a dictionary of everything I’ve said before about everything.

But, as a poor starving author, I can’t afford a continuity supervisor, so I need to change my habits. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen.