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You have to write what you can write

One thing I hear from other authors is how easily they become discouraged when they look at the websites of other authors and/or the authors’ listings on directories such as the one maintained by Poet’s and Writer’s Magazine.

Even though many of these authors are publishing books, stories, or articles, they feel they’re coming up short when they look at the bios of other authors and see lists of grants, awards, fellowships, and literary magazines. It’s always worse, I think, to see that an author one has never heard of has been published in literary magazines that have rejected one’s work.

I’ve never been able to get a short story of mine published by Glimmer Train Magazine. They’ve been around for 30 years and are notoriously difficult to get into. They pay better than most, so they attract the best. When I heard that the magazine was discontinuing publication at the end of this year, I tried one more time. No dice. Had the story been accepted, I would have received a nice payment and some wonderful resume material.

But, there’s no sense dwelling on that. I have to accept that in addition to nonfiction, my strength is novels rather than short stories. So, I am grateful for that rather than the fact my shorter fiction work hasn’t found an audience. And, as for poetry, forget it!

Dwelling on what one usually cannot write is, for sake of a better analogy, rather like a successful tennis player wishing that s/he was also a successful Olympic swimmer. There are different skill sets involved. So, why not improve the one where your talents excel rather than feeling down and out about the venues where your talents don’t seem to fit? Nonetheless, I like submitting stories (and even poems) to a few contests a year because it’s good practice. Sure, one usually ends up editing and polishing material that might not win or even be called a finalist, but I think this work helps make our writing better.

If you’re interested in finding contests that might give you a chance to practice your craft, “Poets and Writers Magazine” has a well-maintained listing of opportunities on its website. Also, check out the listings on Funds for Writers: they have a free newsletter as well as a more extensive newsletter you can subscribe to.

As “they” often say with the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t pay. The same is true for grants and contests: if you don’t enter, you can’t win. (Even being listed as a finalist looks good on your website.) Unlike the lottery, contests require some work. That’s time well spent.

Malcolm

 

 

Does everyone in the U.S. need an anger management class?

“How dare you don’t agree with me, you ignorant bastard.”

I’ve seen responses like that so often on Facebook that I seldom get involved in political “discussions.” Looking at this, and many of the protests, some commentators are asking why “everyone” is so angry.

Maybe we’re just flat tired of the ultra-polarized world we’ve suddenly found ourselves in. There seem to be few shares of grey: you either support a candidate or belief system 100% or you’re scum. There’s seldom an alternative. If you’re a moderate, in years gone by, you might have been a peacemaker, one who’s trying to bring together extreme views into a consensus. Now, moderates get beat up online by the extremists on both sides of the political aisle.

We’re told that our silence is consent in so far as nasty issues are concerned. Yet when we speak out, we’re lambasted by a lot of angry people when we don’t buy into one extreme or the other hook, line, and sinker. I see more shades of grey than either/or, but there’s little I can say online to combat those who are 100% for XYZ and those who are 0% against XYZ because all of those people sound like they’re getting their talking points from the same kinds of places. That is, they aren’t speaking for themselves but for a point of view, that’s (apparently) beamed into their minds by a BORG mothership or a PAC or a political party.

It appears to me that a lot of people feel very uncomfortable when the views they’ve had for a lifetime are questioned by others. Quite often, those views were considered mainstream, the kinds of things that “everybody” in the country believed in. Now, people are finding out that the kind of views that might have seemed reasonable in the 1950s aren’t reasonable today. So, they don’t know how to respond other than with anger and profanity.

Some people wonder if all this anger will send the country into another civil war. I don’t think so, though I can see why many people might think that our differences cannot be healed peacefully. In general, I have a live and let live viewpoint. If another person or group is not a real and present danger to you and others, why get upset about it? Yet a fair number of people apparently think that their religion and their value system and their yardstick of right and wrong should be applied to everybody else. I don’t get it.

I have always believed that the tenets of one’s religion apply only to those who subscribe to that religion rather than the public at large. A lot of the anger seems to come from the belief that “whatever my god tells me to do applies to those with other religious beliefs.” I think that’s an arrogant stance. Why do any of us need to control another person based on our own religious beliefs? Why do people fight like hell to impose their religious beliefs on others via state and federal law? Anger often seems to be a result of this kind of thinking.

We seem to have gone past the point where civilized debate is possible. Personally, I think that if a protester or a politician or an activist cannot listen to the opposition, their cause is suspect. That is, they are not sure of their enough of their stance to be civil. Or even human.

If you look at the political speeches of the day, the commentaries about those speeches, and the fallout on social media, you’ll see–I think–that more people want to be aggrieved than want to find unity.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my better lives

About fifty years ago, a psychic told me that this was going to be one of my better lives.

Compared to those whose families are snuffed out by crime, war, disease, death, and other misfortunes, she got it right. This lifetime has been rather volatile and problematic enough that sometimes I wonder, “better than what?”

Well, I know what happened in some of those past lives, and sure as heck wouldn’t want to return to them. I died in at least one war and was an abused child in another life. I carry such memories just like memories of times gone by in this life.

Yes, I believe in reincarnation and that many of those involved with us in one life were involved with us in “earlier” lives. No, we are never rats or cats or zebras or any other animals. I’ve believed this since I was in high school. Suffice it to say, I was at odds with the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church on this matter (among others).

I read an article today about an author whose therapist suggested she write fiction or nonfiction about the things that brought her to therapy. Perhaps she could change the endings and show herself as triumphant rather than in deep depression. I’ve never been able to keep a journal, but many writers have found journals help them make sense of things.

Many things in my life had been fictionalized into themes and scenes and brief moments in a lot of my fiction. I wasn’t writing to “get even” (a common joke about crossing an author and ending up in his/her next novel) but to make sense of things. Oddly enough, the worst parts of this “better life” turned into my best fiction. Those moments were the kinds of conflict the stories needed. Had I lived in an ivory tower with $10000000000000 in my bank account, I wonder what the hell I would have written about.

Perhaps “better lives” means not getting killed but having enough angsty stuff to write about. Okay, as a writer, I can see that.

If you write, do you find more “quality material” in the worst moments of your life than the best? If you don’t fictionalize those worst moments into books and stories you publish, do you come to terms with them in a journal and/or a bottle of Xanax?

Writing, whether it’s journaling or published fiction/non-fiction, is a good escape valve for all that ails us. At least, it’s kept me reasonably sane. (I’ve always thought being 100% sane is a mistake.) At any rate, I believe we create our the realities within which we live. So, I guess I can say that I wanted survivable slings and arrows. An old friend once told me she thought life as, at best, boring. I can’t see that at all. This “better life” has not been boring, far from it. I couldn’t have tolerated that.

But you, whether you write or not (one way or another), how do you feel about this lifetime (even if you believe you are given only one of them)? Has it been better than average–whatever that means? Yes or no on “better than average,” has it suited your needs? For me, the answer is “yes.” Like you, I am what I have lived, and it’s difficult to imagine anything else.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

‘Mountain Song’ Excerpt – and this one happens to be true

The Great Northern Empire Builder carried them east of the mountains across the hi-line plains where space invites and old memories die hard between the dry and the cold.

His destination: Chicago, Illinois, for the upcoming term at the University of Chicago. Anne’s destination: Carrabelle, Florida, for the upcoming term at Florida State University in nearby Tallahassee. Anne changed trains in Chicago, taking the Seminole to Albany, Georgia, where her aunt met her in the Willys for the slow drive down to the coast and the fading double-wide with the flamingo-colored screen porch. After dropping Anne off at the IC Station, David took their cab down to 95th Street for dinner at Mickelberry’s before going back to the campus.

The 440 miles from the Rocky Mountain Front to the North Dakota border were Jayee’s realm, the whole of earth, a corridor of tracks, power lines and the pale parallel pavement of U.S. Highway 2 through the once unfettered domain of bison and sovereign nations until T-shaped railroad towns and cattle and wheat and oil and gas proved up the stolen land into the modern day, until the monuments to the new progress, grain elevators and water towers, rose up to touch the sky.

The towns, so many names—Browning, Havre, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Culbertson, Williston, Minot, Fargo, Wilmar, Minneapolis—carried lives past the wide windows of the Great Dome Coach #1326 where they were wrapped in a five-point Hudson’s Bay blanket and suspended animation, interrupted only by hurried snacks in the Ranch Car Crossley Lake with the B-Bar-N brand above the entrance and dinners in the diner where the “Mountains and Flowers” pattern on the china reminded them with each bite what they were leaving behind; and then, Chicago, Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling City of the Big Shoulders; “They tell me you are wicked and I believe them,” but the poet’s words were inconsequential to them as they arrived at Union Station at 2 p.m.

The sunlight exploded from the center of their world outward when the Checker Marathon taxi careened up the ramp out of the depths of the station onto Clinton Street, turned east on Jackson, and raced toward the lake. They sat close in the cavernous back seat. They did not talk. Anne held David’s hand and looked past him into the glare where buildings flew. Her shoulder was pressed against his; her left hip and left leg were pressed against his right hip and right leg. But she would not let him have her eyes, not yet. The place was foreign, the town, the taxi, the moment. David didn’t know how to behave. Everything was already said and done.

South down Michigan Avenue past the green of the park, he saw the station before she did. Almost liquid in the afternoon light, the clock tower flowed westward away from the green and black Illinois Central logo toward 12th Street. The cab turned into the U-shaped drive. He ran his outstretched fingers up the back of her neck into her hair. She leaned against the flat of his hand. Before she looked up, the driver was already out of the car hauling suitcases toward an elderly Redcap with yesterday’s beard.

“We have until four forty-five,” he told her.

“I can’t draw this out,” she whispered. She pressed her hands against the front of his shirt and smiled. “Yes, you still have my ring on a silver chain around your neck. I like it there.”

“If it weren’t so small, I’d wear it on my little finger.”

Finally, he found himself within the focus of her eyes for mere instants; that was all she had.

He retrieved the silver bracelet he’d purchased for her on a day trip to Lethbridge, and she allowed him to wrap it around her right ankle. Then she slid across the seat, and exhaust fumes from a passing shuttle bus filled the cab when she opened the door and got out. She stuck her head back inside and kissed him.

“I’ll be stone cold dead before anyone removes this bracelet,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“I have an answer to the question you asked me while we were eating hamburgers in the Ranch Car.” He saw a sparkle in her eyes and smiled.

“Speak.”

“My answer is a no-holds-barred, unconditional, leap-of-faith ‘yes,’” she said.

“Hot damn,” shouted the cab driver.

“Okay,” she said, “it’s also a big hot damn of a ‘yes.’”

“Kiss her, stupid,” their driver suggested.

Copyright © 2010, 2013, 2017 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Old slings and arrows: do they still bother you?

I was ready to work on my novel in progress this morning when I saw a post on Facebook about a beloved employer of many people who (I believe) totally screwed up my life with a bad decision. Instead of working on the novel, I found myself replaying the events of the distant past. I couldn’t say what he did on the Facebook page where he was mentioned, because it would: (a) not be received well, (b) open a can of worms, and (c) make people wonder how I could be this pissed off about the whole thing almost 50 years after it happened.

Memories are often like the sea, constantly shifting.

Some say that old men tend to do this. They (including me, I guess) are taught not to cry for most of their lives. Then, when they get old, they can no longer hold it in.

Do you do this? Do you happen to think about some unfairness out of the past and then, without warning, find yourself dwelling upon it as though it happened last week?

Or, is this just a disease saved for those of us who write novels?

I wish I could turn off such thoughts. They have no value unless I translate them into a novel, and they hurt me just as much in the present and they did when they happened. A psychologist would have a field day with this problem.

Then, too, when one thinks about such things logically, s/he can see that had things done the way one wanted them to in the past, a lot of wonderful things since then wouldn’t have happened. Well, there’s a guilt trip for you. This man’s actions cost me–through a domino effect of circumstances–the lady I was planning to marry. Had I done so, I would never have met my wife. Gosh, the old angst is not only a waste of time but a current-day guilt trip.

Most of the time, we can move on from those old slings and arrows, the people and jobs and lifestyles that “got away.” But from time to time, they rush back into our lives to haunt us. Really, I don’t need those ghosts in my life.

But they’re hard to get rid of. How do you handle such things?

Malcolm

Dear readers, your reviews really do help

Reader reviews on Amazon not only help spread the word to prospective readers, but they attract those readers’ attention in the first place. These reviews also impact how Amazon displays a book in a reader’s search results. Needless to say, more people review the books of widely known writers than the books of so-called “midlist” and small-press authors. As many emerging writers have said, the authors who don’t need the reviews or the interviews are the ones who get them.

Some authors try to make placing a reader review sound easy, suggesting that all you have to say is “I liked it.” I don’t agree with that. “I liked it” isn’t a review. If a prospective reader reads such a review, they learn nothing about the book and might even think the reviewer knows the author and potentially didn’t even read the novel.

Suffice it to say, honest reviews with a few details explaining why a reader liked or didn’t like a book are better than reviews with nothing more than “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” For readers who review multiple books, it’s disconcerting that they’ll take the time to review a well-known author’s book that has, say–3,000 reviews already–but don’t spend the time to review an emerging author’s books. I seldom review major books on Amazon because I don’t think there’s much I can possibly add to the conversation that already involves a thousand or more reviews. I’m more likely to review these books on my blog.

In social media, it’s quite common to hear that dozens of people liked an author’s latest book. These opinions are treasured and very nice to hear. A lot of those people wish the author well, and yet, most of them don’t go out to Amazon and leave a review. They probably have no idea how vital their reviews are to the book’s success. Amazon’s book-display algorithms count reviews; so do various blogs and newsletters where books can be advertised. (It’s hard to get your book into one of those book newsletters if it has few reviews.)

Basically, it comes down to this insofar as midlist and small-press authors are concerned: if readers don’t help support the book, it isn’t going to sell.  Yet, authors really can’t say this to readers on Facebook or Twitter because it’s unseemly and probably turns readers off who really don’t know anything about leaving an Amazon, Goodreads, or B&N review. Plus, it’s generally considered bad form to beg for reviews. Authors are rather stuck. When a reader tells them on Facebook that their latest novel was the best book they ever read, it’s a bit crass to say, “have you posted that viewpoint on Amazon yet?”

Readers certainly have no obligation to post reviews. Most readers don’t. They read a book and move on to the next book. So, I think it’s an imposition for an author to “lean on” readers in the social media by asking them directly for an online review even though many of the books will fail without those reviews. Authors often feel stuck. They need the reviews but it’s bad form to ask for them or to keep posting little generic notices on their Facebook authors’ pages to the effect that reviews help spread the word.

Frankly, I wish professional book reviewers, critics, and bloggers would do better keeping up with small-press books since those are the books that need the exposure. Nobody is really served well when a critic/reviewer posts review number 5,000 for a well-known author’s book. But, for an emerging or small-press author, even a three-star review helps bring a book some much-needed online attention.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,’ “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena,” all of which are available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook editions.

 

 

 

 

Ten Questions for Xuan Juliana Wang from Poets & Writers

“What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?

“I would have to say the loneliness of falling out of step with society. When I’m out celebrating a friend who has just made a huge stride in their career, someone would ask me, “Hey how’s that book coming along?” Then having to tell them that I have a desk in an ex-FBI warehouse and I’ll be sitting there in the foreseeable future, occasionally looking out the window, trying to make imaginary people behave themselves.” 

Source: Ten Questions for Xuan Juliana Wang | Poets & Writers

Many writers and aspiring writers might easily share Wang’s answer to the challenges of writing books. You have to be able to accept a lot of prospective loneliness that comes with being out of sync with everyone else.

Personally, I don’t like the question “Hey how’s your book coming along” because most people want a quick answer. They don’t want to hear about the plot or your trials and tribulations and doubts. Chances are, they would be impressed if you told them you’d just signed a $100,000 deal with HarperCollins and that your agent is already in negotiations with Hollywood. Otherwise, the best answer is “slowly, but surely.”

Anything other than that, and people’s eyes glaze over and they find excuses to go to the bathroom, head over to the bar for another drink, or simply disappear. You have to be crazy or filled with a lot of passion to sign up for this.

If you’re a writer, do you feel that you’re not part of the hustle and bustle of “real life”?

Malcolm

 

Endlessly Scrolling Through Twitter and Facebook

Writers often use Twitter and Facebook as part of their so-called media platforms, perhaps a necessary evil and/or a worthwhile publicity/networking part of the business that’s apparently indispensable to everyone who isn’t James Patterson or Alice Hoffman or Dean Koontz. Yet, as I read Damyanti Biswas’ recent post How much Time Do You Spend on #SociaMedia? How is It Affecting You?, I wondered how much social media time as necessary and how much was an addiction.

True, I have unblocked myself from my novels in progress by endlessly scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, I’ve done the same thing to break cycles of clinical depression. Yet, I can also say that there are days I got little or nothing none due to some mindless need to keep up with the latest social media stuff more than necessary. Part of being a writer is keeping up with the business, supporting other writers, and learning more about one’s craft by “talking” to other writers and following blogs like Damyanti’s.

Obviously, at some point, too much social media time is too much and it’s getting in the way of the stuff we’re supposed to be doing whether it’s writing or anything else. The easiest thing to do, I think, is to set time limits. We can decide, can’t we, just how long we’ll read bloggers’ posts and Facebook status updates before leaving the Internet for the day and turning to our real work. I’ve known people who kept their TVs on 24/7, tuned into one network news feed or another to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Some folks seem to look at social media the same way. But seriously, what are you going to miss that’s more important than your own career and your family’s needs?

One mistake here, I believe, is assuming that whatever’s happening on Twitter and Facebook is more important than whatever else we might do with our day. It’s almost a phobia, this feeling that our lives will be ruined if an important tweet or post goes by without our knowing about it instantly. Meanwhile, to satisfy the infinite demands of that phobia, our own work is sitting there undone, and at the end of a day of “too much” social media, we feel really down about ourselves pretty much the same way a drunk feels after wasting another day being drunk.

When I worked as a technical writer for large corporations, management would occasionally subject us to time-management courses that showed that a large number of us spent too much time focusing on what wasn’t important. Among other things, we tended to clear low-importance stuff out of our in baskets before working on our primary projects. Now, I see many of us who write doing the same thing with social media. We handle it first and then we finally get around to our major priorities.

As important as social media can be for promoting our work and networking with others, they are not our primary mission. Social media tweets and updates and posts represent what others are doing, not what I’m (supposed to be) doing. I need to remind myself of that from time to time.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

 

 

Hello, Cancer, my old associate

Okay, here’s an update, and then I’ll get off the personal stuff and look again at books (including my own, of course), writing, and a bit of magic.

The news and our neighborhoods are constantly filled the talk of cancer as though it’s a shadow that follows all of us or, at the very least, hovers nearby as friends, neighbors, and widely known people either die from it or become survivors.

I’m already a survivor–from kidney cancer and successful surgery–two years ago. It was caught by coincidence when I suddenly came down with appendicitis and the CT scan and MRI found the tumor. Fortunately, it was on the outside of the kidney and could be removed before it invaded the kidney. I ended up with a six-inch scar that took a long time to fade away, but I feel hesitant to mention that I’m a survivor because I didn’t undergo the long and painful journeys that many survivors face.

You notice that in the title of this post, I didn’t say, “my old friend.” Yes, I suffer from depression, but not the fatalistic kind that would put cancer on my Christmas card or Facebook friends list. Suffice it to say, we’ve met before. I read somewhere that 80% of the men who reach 80* have cancer cells in their prostates. Sometimes it’s treated, sometimes it’s simply monitored. However, the older a man gets, the more his doctors insist upon a PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) blood tes several times a year. The higher the number, the worse the result is. So, you want to see nothing higher than, say, a “3” in the results. As you get older, that acceptable number gets a bit higher. My number has bounced up and down, partly because I had BHP (Benign prostatic hyperplasia) which can impact the results.

So, when the number shot up to 22, it was “what the hell is this?” The doctor put me under sedation and did a biopsy. A relatively small number of cancer cells were found. Fortunately, the follow-up CT scans showed that the cancer had not spread, the worst case being into one’s bones. When my wife an I talked the urologist yesterday about the results and prognosis, we were actually relieved because we already knew it was cancer and were more concerned about how bad it might be.

The treatment will probably be radiation since the cancer cells are scattered–rather than comprising a tumor–along with hormone therapy. We won’t know how this will be set up until June 10th when I have an appointment with the oncology department. The prognosis at this point is that the treatment will make me cancer free again by this fall. The radiation treatments [External beam radiation therapy (EBRT)] are a five-days-a-week protocol, and that’s way more doctor’s visits than I want. The treatments are painless and the side effects impact a very low percentage of those being treated.

So there it is, more cancer details than either you or I want to read in a post or anywhere else.

As for today, Lesa and I are celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. We’re having homemade mousaka for dinner along with some wine or Coke and maybe something amusing on TV.

Malcolm

* P.S. No, I am not in my 80s.

On this day of memories, an excerpt from ‘At Sea’

My favorite writing, I think can be found in my linked novels Mountain Song and At Sea. The books are true in ways I can never tell you and they speak of loss and other sad things and looking for oneself. At Sea is my Vietnam War novel. It’s still patiently waiting for the right audience to find it. Here’s an excerpt on a day when we remember those who didn’t return:

At Sea

On his last night aboard ship, David stood on the catwalk after stopping by the head to wipe the blood off his hands only to discover there were no damn towels. He wondered who, if anyone, he had betrayed: Píta, his golden eagle messenger, perhaps, and the dead on Jayee’s Lists; those who called him into the center of the lotus in the sea of fire or those who called him away from the lotus. Or even Jill, one way or another. He sought clues. Yet, with the ship steaming as before at various courses and speeds on Yankee Station at condition yoke on a clear commander’s moon of a night, with sleeping birds behind him with folded wings, with eight bells struck in pairs announcing the end of the first watch, he was blind.

Angelita once told him while they were treading water at the foot of Magdapio Falls, surrounded by sheer cliffs and a hovering rain forest, “God brings to us the ones we love if our calls are pure and strong.” She looked tiny and cold in the shower of spray and quite distracted by the everlasting call of the water, but he asked her nonetheless what one ought to do if his pure call spoilt over time. She climbed out of the water on to one of the many sun-warmed rocks, grabbed a towel, and chattered out a reply. “Ask God if your true love has a sister. If she doesn’t, then call an angel.”

He headed home nonetheless, wondering how many angels a man could scare away in a lifetime: To Danang, South Vietnam, aboard the ship’s C-1A Trader. To Cubi Point aboard a nondescript plane. To the Galaxy Bar in Olongapo to say goodbye to the angel who saved his life. To Clark Air Base aboard an HU-16 Albatross. Then, to Travis AFB in California via a TransInternational DC-8, arriving on January 1, 1970.

His orders granted him an honorable discharge, for reasons of conscientious objection and though the system said it was his right to do it, he would not be much liked for signing his name on that line. Anti-war protesters at the base spat on him and called him a baby killer. Ultimately, his liberal parents would yell at him on the phone and call him a hypocrite—it would not be the last time.

Jill was not at Travis to watch him run the gauntlet of the war protesters’ love-in beneath cumulonimbus clouds spinning the scattered late afternoon sunlight into threads of gold. Her parents had lured her into their snowy world along the Lake Michigan shore for the holidays, knowing—as did she—that he would show up wherever she was whenever he showed up. Using his bulky seabag as a battering ram, he pushed through the ranting flower children toward a dull blue military bus for the ninety-minute ride to the Alameda Naval Air Station.

“Mr. Ward?”

A tall, large-boned, gangly blond woman stood apart from the crowd with her hands on her hips. She had bangs; they hung loosely above her pale brown eyes, while her long hair swept back into a ponytail that was determined to catch in the collar of her denim work shirt.

“Yes?”

“I’m Eleanor Rose, Jack’s wife.”

He dropped his sea bag with a thud and they shook hands. “How did you recognize me? Are you meeting somebody?”

“Chief Coleman, of your recent employer, called me. He told me you looked emaciated, sick almost unto death. Hard to miss that. I’m here to meet you unless you want to ride to Alameda on that bus.”

“I don’t, unless you’ve got something worse.”

She picked up his sea bag as though it were weightless.

“Come on, Mr. Ward,” she said. “I’ve got a bright red Mercury M-250 pickup. It rides fine.”

“Call me David.”

“Your Chief Coleman was also right about your wife.”

“What about her?”

“She’s not here.”

“I didn’t expect her.”

Eleanor slung the sea bag into the back of the truck. “Get in,” she said. “It’s not locked.”

“Jill’s spending Christmas with her parents.”

“With all due respect,” she said as she guided the truck out of the parking lot, “she ought to be here.”

“I wish she were,” he said. “Not that you’re chopped liver.”

“I understand. You’ll need a home-cooked meal, I expect.”

“Are you offering?”

“I am.”

“Lucky break for me. I was expecting shit on a shingle at the base.”

“Jack loved this truck,” she said, and settled back in the seat like she wasn’t expecting a response.

The world flowed by, a normalcy of sorts. She looked at him from time to time, a pragmatic smile washing across her squarish face. South of Pinole, she told him the first money from Chogori was sending her back to school to get her teaching credentials. South of El Cerrito, she told him he would have to convince her over her best pot roast that Jack really had a fair hand in writing the book; it seemed so unlike him. As they drove through Berkeley, he told her about the hell-bent-for-leather Mt. Olomana climb, and she said that was Jack.

Then she said, “Your wife should have met you at Travis, not because you came home from a war or even because you survived. Survival isn’t our first duty. When you took a stand and became a conscientious objector, you became your true self.”

“I am not without regrets.”

“I don’t doubt it. They’re battle scars. Your family and friends will never see them. You will always feel them, don’t you think?”

“I do,” he said, happy that she couldn’t see the blood on his hands.

Copyright © 2010, 2013, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm