‘Books may well be the only true magic’ ― Alice Hoffman

If you read and re-read Alice Hoffman’s novels (possibly with an initial focus on the “practical magic” series that concludes with The Book of Magic from 2021), you might slowly come to believe that books are the only true magic.

Some might suggest the magic is within the author and that in ways nobody can know, s/he transmits that magic to the page. Perhaps, but I doubt it. I believe the magic arises in the act of writing and the author only discovers its truth while reading through the manuscript.

One of my favorite Hoffman quotes comes from Practical Magic when Aunt Francis says, “My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.”

If one is normal, then s/he doesn’t consider magic at all, and should magic come up in a conversation, s/he will attack it as a scam. I’ve believed this since high school which, no doubt, accounts for the fact that my teachers considered me a troublemaker. I’m not sure “normal” shows a lack of courage so much as a lack of imagination and/or a simultaneous lack of the kind of curiosity it takes to “test the waters” when new ideas come to mind.

Perhaps the basis for a healthy aversion to consensus normality is an open mind. Having a closed mind seems to begin in high school where the goal of many students was “fitting in.” That was the way one became popular or even acknowledged.  In The Rules of Magic, we read that ““Other people’s judgments were meaningless unless you allowed them to mean something.” In school, it seems, we became addicted to allowing those judgements to mean everything.

I suppose this herd mentality is built into us. It’s not easy breaking free, though the right books will certainly help (Hoffman, perhaps?).

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series, a 1950s-era story in which the good guys battle the KKK. Save money with the four-novels-in-one Kindle edition.

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.”

The lawn mowing blues

When I was a kid, our family was the last in the neighborhood to buy a power mower. In those days, people argued which was better, the rotary type which you had to push or the self-propelled reel-type which–if set wrong–dragged senior citizens through their yards like a runaway horse. We got a rotary and liked it because it chopped up the pinecones in the yard rather than getting them stuck in the blades.

When we were in high school, a friend with a yard equipment company lent us a John Deere and a trailer to haul it around. We mowed a lot of yards that summer and paid a cut of the action to the lawnmower shop’s owner. Friends who’d laughed at us during our push mower days were envious and we laughed ourselves to the bank.

On a rural road, one waves at everyone who drives by.

Now, our property is large enough for several houses and so we have several riding mowers. When they’re working at the same time, we get our grass cut often enough to keep the place from looking abandoned.

When a mower is down, we have trouble keeping up. Our property eats lawn powers. It was a farm until recently and all the cuts of ploughs and harrows, while nothing to a tractor and a bush hog, are a menace to a riding mower. Our mowers ride like bucking horses. That’s hard on them and hard on us.

The aches and pains of old age, arthritis, and otherwise, don’t like riding a bucking horse or mower. So, for several days after cutting the grass, I can hardly move. Or sleep. Or reach down to the floor to tie my shoes or pat the kitties.  Then, of course, rain comes, the grass grows, and it’s time to back the mower out of the garage and start the process all over again.

Amy Winehouse once said, “Every bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen.” So, I have to say that this property loves the blues when it’s time to make it look like people actually live here.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the conjure woman vs. the KKK novel “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

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

Getting kicked into next week

Bullies often say I’m going to kick your ass into next week. Before confronting the bully further, I’d want to know if it’s just my ass or if the rest of me follows my ass into the future. Sometimes weather reporters say the wind is strong enough to blow you into next week. As with the bullies, the primary consideration is will I arrive alive.

And then, does one kicked or blown or thrown or otherwise forced into next week remain a week ahead of the rest of the world forever? Or can they crawl back one way or another to “normal time”?

Assuming that one arrives alive and can get back in sync with the world, being kicked into next week has a lot of benefits. The main thing is knowing stuff in advance. Another thing is profits from changes in the stock market etc. which can be taken advantage of.

It does without saying that if you’re kicked into next week, your life may be: (a) spared something bad that was going to happen to you this week, (b) that you’ll know about something bad scheduled for next week, and can now avoid it.

The next time a bully threatens to kick you into next week, don’t dismiss the opportunity out of hand. Your life and/or your wallet might depend on going with the flow of the moment.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical novel “Special Investigative Reporter.”

Review: ‘Whereabouts’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

If you sharpen a knife for too long, you ultimately have nothing left. This novel treads closely to that eventuality. Lahiri has removed everything readers look for in a work of fiction, presenting us with a plotless, episodic story told in short chapters out of which most of the unnamed, middle-aged female protagonist’s soul has been honed away.

Nonetheless, each rather mundane moment, hanging as it does between engagement and lack of engagement with the world packs a punch that can be likened, perhaps, to a velvet hammer or the piercing shiv that remains of the original knife. The overall effect is reminiscent of a child standing that the ocean’s edge, eager to plunge into and experience the water and yet content to stand in the littoral zone between land and sea–or, in the character’s case–between stubborn loneliness and interaction with others.

Her father is dead and her relationship with her mother is strained. Yet she meets others, casual friends and/or acquaintances on the street, even lovers sometimes, without undue suffering. In fact, she tentatively seeks others out but stands back from total or long-term commitment.

There is hope here even though everything human seems transitory, like leaves that will soon be blown away by the wind. And yet, she waits and ages.

Four of Five Stars

–Malcolm

do you remember where you were on that sad day in 1959?

We tend to remember where we were when we heard the bad news:

  1. Pearl Harbor
  2. Kennedy Assassination
  3. 9/11 Attacks

I wasn’t born yet when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but I definitely know where I was when I first heard about the other two. We seem to be built that way, considering where we were as almost important to us as the bad news.

So yes, I know where I was in 1959 when the breaking network news carried the story of two Native Americans from opposing tribes who drowned when they jumped into a raging river to be together because their love was as big as the sky. I was with my high school band marching in the Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival parade.

“The Big Bopper” (Jiles Perry Richardson) wrote the song, but he decided it didn’t fit his rockabilly style, so he gave it to Johnny Preston who recorded it after “the music died” in a February 3, 1959 plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa cornfield at 1:00 a.m. CST that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Richardson. The news was seemingly ubiquitous, though I don’t know where I was when I heard first this tragic story. How some people ended up on the plane and others didn’t was, many thought, a twisted example of fate.

So much time has passed, that more people probably know where they were the first time they heard Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie” which coined the phrase “when the music died.” The song, at 8 and 1/2 minutes in length, was about the longest one any of us remembered hearing on the radio. I was in a hospital bed in Illinois with mono when the song came out and, frankly, thought I was hallucinating.

As for “Running Bear,” I doubt many people remember his love for Little White Dove these days. The odd thing for me is that I remember the song from the beginning rather than after it appeared in the 1994 Steve Martin movie “A Simple Twist of Fate,” though, that title seems to sum up everything else here.

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