Grand Teton National Park

The most famous photograph of Grand Teton National Park was taken by Ansel Adams in 1942 showing the Snake River in the foreground.

Many photographers take pictures of the Tetons from this side of the mountains.

These days they’re usually in color and often show The John Moulton Barn. I see this view almost weekly on Facebook. If I hadn’t seen various sections of the Snake River when I was young, I’d be tempted to ask: “Is there another side to these mountains and, if so, why don’t we ever see it?”

If I were a fan of conspiracy theories, I might ask for proof that these mountains are more than a giant mural or, perhaps, an exciting arête that’s no wider than a few hundred feet or so.

People have been visiting the Tetons as a 480-square mile National Park since 1929. According to the National Park Service, “Grand Teton National Park took decades to establish. Congress created the original park in 1929 to protect the Teton Range and several lakes at the foot of the mountains. In 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared additional land in the valley to be Jackson Hole National Monument. In 1949, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated the land he purchased to the government to be included in the national park. Finally, in 1950, Congress combined the original park, the national monument, and the Rockefeller lands to establish the present-day Grand Teton National Park. In 1972, Congress established the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, which connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to honor Rockefeller’s philanthropy and commitment to the National Park System.”

Sad to say, I have never been to Jackson Hole or climbed these mountains. Out of youthful stupidity, I skipped an opportunity to attend a photography class led by Ansel Adams in the 1960s because I was in love with somebody who finally ran off and married somebody else.  If I had it to do over again, I would choose a more lasting experience. I might not be a professional photographer, but I would have met the master of western photography and (possibly) learned a few tips. Adams’ distinct style remains my favorite view of the out of doors.

And then perhaps my own camera would have proven to me that the Grand Tetons can be seen from both sides, like clouds.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

 

Nightbeat: Why Book Sales Are Down

Nightbeat column, Star-Gazer News Service, Junction City, TX, July 1, 2021–Woke up early this morning because the “patriots” across the street were firing off cherry bombs and M-80s before the dawn’s early light even had a chance to pull itself together.

When I called the cops, the 911 dispatcher said they thought all that racket was “simply another neighborhood gang war, so hadn’t bothered to investigate.” I made coffee and checked to see if my typewriter had finished the column I started last night. Unfortunately, the only words on the otherwise blank sheet of Eaton’s Corrasable Bond typewriter paper was the title:

Nightbeat: Why Book Sales Are Down

Sometimes evil spirits, haints, and things that go bump in the night write my columns while I’m sleeping or passed out. No luck, so I showered, shaved, drank two cups of Maxwell House Coffee, and walked to the bad part of the neighborhood which, actually, is right next door. I cut through the unmowed backyards so the “patriots” wouldn’t see me and knocked on the man’s back door.

“Who sent you?” he asked.

“Bob Costas,” I whispered.

The door openly quickly and a withered arm snaked out and yanked me into the mudroom which, coincidentally, was filled with mud.

My source looked like death warmed over. “What do you need?”

“The straight skinny about falling book sales,” I said.

“Did James Patterson die last night?”

“No, but that wouldn’t matter since Tom Clancy is still churning out bestsellers.”

“When you’re right, you’re right, Jock,” he said as he lit up a Lucky Strike. “Otherwise, serious small press authors are being hurt because everyone thinks they have a book in them–actually, many books.”

“The old gag was ‘every journalist thinks he has a book in him and that’s where it should stay,'” I replied.

“My sources tell me the old rules and the old morals no longer count. Today’s self-published and small-press authors have developed writer’s diarrhea.”

“That stinks.”

“No sh_t. They’re–how should I put this?–spewing out cookie-cutter genre books at the rate of thousands of words per day per person. It’s the chief cause of global warming and insanity. I checked a secret survey last week and, as it turns out, only two or three people in the country are not writing books. You know what that means.”

He took a swig of Jack Daniels and passed me the bottle.

“Damn, that’s good,” I said. “Of course I know what it means. It means that Larry, Moe, and Curry, and the scum across the street are the only people out there who are still reading.”

“Damn straight.”

“So, that means that two or three people are using different names to post highly positive reviews on Amazon for those tawdry books while the good writers are lucky to find a review anywhere.”

“You planning to stay for breakfast.”

“Bacon and eggs?” I asked hopefully.

“Bangers and mash with gravy.”

“I’ll pass.”

“As always, this conversation never happened.”

“I know.”

I went home, typed up my notes, and faxed this column to the newspaper. The editor wouldn’t like it, but I don’t give a flaming rat’s butt about that because she knows I know she’s one of the people ruining literature with her 40-book series “The Piper and the Piper’s Missus.” People are addicted to it. It’s worse than Fentanyl.

Her readers are reviewing her books before they’re even released. We’re entering the end of times, kind readers, and you read it here first.

Story filed by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

 

 

Uncreative cook always needs recipes.

If Chef Gordon Ramsay asked me as a contestant on “Hell’s Kitchen” or “MasterChef” to prepare my signature dish, I’d prepare a medium-well steak, with a baked potato wrapped in tin foil. If you watch either of these shows, you know (a) that Ramsay expects all steaks to be medium rare (i.e. raw), and (b) doesn’t believe in the concept of an entre with sides but one cohesive dish.

Frankly, I don’t like raw steak or the one-dish concept where my steak is sitting on top of asparagus with a warm salad draped over the whole shebang.

If you present an entre on “Chopped” with separate side dishes, the judges say, the flavors are here, but it’s not a cohesive dish.

Best I can tell, Gordon, the judges on “MasterChef,” and “Chopped” all know how to cook. But, it’s fru-fru, Michelin Star cooking with all the food jumbled together on the plate with some puree or other used to decorate the empty space where the sides would normally go.

But, I digress. I do most of the grocery shopping and cooking in our house and my wife does most of the laundry.  I have the cookbooks I grew up with. Gordon would hate them. So that’s where I go for ideas. Like pot roast: there’s something you don’t see on “MasterChef” even though it’s certainly cohesive except not with a Waldorf salad perched on top of it.

We’re having barbecued pork on sesame seed buns for supper. The recipe came with the cookbook included with our Rival Crockpot ten years ago. The judges on “Chopped” love it when contestants say they learned to cook from their mothers’ expertise in the kitchen. I doubt they’d react with the same tearful “Aw, ain’t that wonderful” kind of comment if I said I was inspired by a cookbook from a slow cooker manufacturer.

My mother and my wife’s mother both cooked the way people were taught in the 1950s either via home economics or their own mothers. That’s still our foundation. And it really tends to make me suspect the foundation of all the beautiful people (dressed to the nines) who show up for a meal on “Hell’s Kitchen.”

I don’t think I want to know any of those people. They’re eating really weird stuff that would cause you to be shot if you asked for it at a Cracker Barrel. As I type this post, my Rival Crockpot meal is cooking in my Rival Crockpot. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Chef Ramsay.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Briefly noted: ‘A Search for Safe Passage’

Available from the association’s online shop.

When I saw a story about this book and the related efforts near the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park in the summer 2021 issue of “National Parks Magazine,” I had to share it here. The author, Frances Figart, is the creative services director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Her book, as the article says, “is part of an effort to raise awareness about the real-life situation along Interstate 40, a four-lane road that runs through the Pigeon River Gorge” near the park.

I know the road well, but it’s not a friend of the wildlife that find it to be either a fence or a death trap to their natural migrations through the area. A coalition of groups is looking for solutions, including animal overpasses and tunnels.

From the Publisher

“A Search for Safe Passage” tells the story of best friends Bear and Deer who grew up together on the North side of a beautiful Appalachian gorge. In the time of their grandparents, animals could travel freely on either side of a fast-flowing river, but now the dangerous Human Highway divides their home range into the North and South sides. On the night of a full moon, two strangers arrive from the South with news that will lead to tough decisions, a life-changing adventure, and new friends joining in a search for safe passage. The book is closely connected to Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, a new public education and infrastructure development campaign in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It includes an additional nonfiction section with educational lessons about animal habitat requirements, behavior, migration patterns, and roadway ecology problems and solutions developed with input from both international and local experts. Aimed at readers ages 7 to 13. 122 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″.

Beautifully illustrated by Emma DuFort, the book presents a compelling story that should help make young people aware of oversights (being corrected in many areas) of the federal highway system when it comes to the animal populations who live where humans want to drive cars and trucks.

–Malcolm

Mountains. . .before I got too old to climb them

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes. . .

from “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas

When I first explored the mountains of Glacier National Park, “time let me hail and climb golden in the heydays of his eyes.” I thought those trails and those days would go on forever even though I had read the Dylan Thomas poem many times and knew how it ended. Even though grandparents are around us when we are young, we still think we will always be young and, that if we won’t, old age is eons away in a future too far away to fathom.

When we’re young, it’s hard to imagine being old. When we’re old, it’s easy to remember being young just as I remember the first time I read “Fern Hill” and was concerned about the words: “ In the sun that is young once only, time let me play and be golden in the mercy of his means.”

As I write a novel now about a character following a trail near Piegan Mountain, I must rely on the videos and descriptions of younger men and women, those who are still healthy in time’s golden era. If I’d only known, some 50 years ago, that I’d be writing this novel, I would have taken a hundred photographs along the trail that led from Going to Sun Road to Many Glacier Hotel. But I was too enchanted within the moment to create a photographic diary on Ektachrome film. (Regrets, I’ve had a few.)

If there’s a learning experience in all this, it’s to push on with the writing using the resources I can find rather than wishing (a) I could be young again, (b) took 1000 photographs of everything, and (c) ruined my life experiences by slavishly documenting them for those old-age years when they would be beyond reach.

When we have finally followed time out of grace, our memories must suffice, all the more sweet because they are so tangled and unclear rather like a dream of once walking the high country when knees and ankles and breath were strong and the sky was blue and full of endless promise from side to side.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

 

 

 

Sad to leave my favorite organization after 34 years

I left because one of the officers chewed me out on a related private Facebook group in front of nearly a thousand other members. The thread started off decently, then deteriorated into a lecture from her that never addressed the question I initially asked. Of course, I am completely blameless in every possible way (hmm).

Online exchanges tend to lend themselves to a high number of misunderstandings. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because–other than private groups–10000000 people might be reading the exchange, something that adds a lot of pressure that isn’t there when two people talk over a cup of coffee in a Waffle House.

Yet, as a writer, I’m still amazed at how often the posts that begin with the best of intentions turn into an argument that can’t be saved. I wonder how many “real-life” friendships are destroyed online.

So, I left the Facebook group and then canceled my membership in a related non-profit organization. I still support the organization’s work but see no viable role for me in it if what I experienced in the group represents what management thinks of its members. I feel sad about leaving as well as justified in leaving. I’ve heard a lot of people say this about “real life” as well as online clubs/groups.

Suffice it to say, the “heat of the moment” is always a dicey place for intelligent decision-making. Most of us have been there, in that heated moment where we made long-term decisions that might have been better made a week or two later. I’m still feeling justified in my decision, but a month from now, I might wish I hadn’t made it.

That’s part of being human, I guess.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

I need a lawn tractor with power steering and A/C

When my wife and I finish several hours of yard work, we feel like we’ve been beaten up by a badass chapter of Hell’s Angels. Everything hurts. I should point out that both of us have slipped past middle age, probably while drunk or asleep, and now (gasp) are probably presumed to be senior citizens. That means we’re wise and/or wiseass and need to be revered and respected by younger people.

So, last night after mowing at least an acre of high grass, I fell into a recliner with a bottle of Highland Brewing Gaelic Ale and more or less watched something or other on TV. I think it might have been Master Chef Legends followed Crime Scene Kitchen. I vaguely remember that people were cooking stuff, some of which looked worse than anything I fix for supper and some of which looked great.

Three or four of these might help.

Getting back to this post’s header, my proposal to the Feds is to pass a bill that mandates all senior citizens with a riding mower/lawn tractor will get a free upgrade to automatic transmission and A/C. We live in a rural area where we have about three lots worth of mowing to do and we need government money to smooth things over, mainly the property which randomly gets tromped to oblivion when the neighbor’s cows get out and wreck the yard.

So, what I need for you to do is call your senator and representative and say, “People older than dirt are still mowing their yards with riding mowers that function like a hot and sweaty bucking bronco.”

I’m not making this up.

All we need is several hundred grand to fix the problem. Since we’re filled with wisdom that is free, we don’t think this is too much to ask.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Dear consultant, you want me to pay you to tell me about the software I don’t want?

Perhaps you saw this e-mail. A writing/marketing consultant sent me an e-mail “offering me a seat which wasn’t free” to an upcoming webinar about novel-plotting software. He did give recipients a free tip: after analyzing multiple programs, he liked Plottr best. Plotter’s slogan is Plan Your Books The Way You Think.

I cruised through the website and what I saw reminded me of the note cards, outlines, and other annoyances that English teachers used to force on us every time we wrote a paper. My answer to Plottr is the same as my answer to English teachers 50 years ago: Nobody thinks like this.

Perhaps a programmer using C, COBOL, or assembly language thinks like that, but writers certainly don’t. I’ve written computer programs and noted the difference between their structure and the structure of a story.

So, after seeing what the consultant wanted me to learn more about, my mood went from pleasant to bad. It got worse when I saw that the way to learn more was through a webinar. Holy hell, I thought, that’s about the slowest possible way to impart information. Very linear. Much slower than a booklet with headings and subheads that let me go directly to the points I want to know more about. With a webinar, I have to suffer through the whole darn thing to get to the points I care about. I have no idea why this is such a popular method of dispending information. It’s probably cheap.

Now, if the webinar came with a transcript I could refer to later, I might give its creator a little slack.

While on the Plottr website, I kept seeing mini-testimonials flashing on my screen from people who loved the application. I didn’t see any testimonials from well-known novelists. Joe Doaks says Plottr is great. Okay, wonderful. What’s the name of a novel he wrote using the program?

You can see, I think, that I’m not in favor of this kind of software. If it helps a writer, that’s fine. Nevertheless, I tend to see it as a detrimental approach that gets in the way of a story’s development. For goodness sakes, I don’t need a thousand-word dossier on every character before writing the words “Once upon a time.”

Enough, already. I’ve said most of this before.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Some things are too close to write about

In recent years, authors have written memoirs or memoir-style novels based on the crimes and conditions the authors suffered while growing up. I think of Natasha Trethewey’s 2020 book Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, for example.  The country needs to hear these words, especially from marginalized people.

I have no such words, nothing personal to say that impacts the national discourse en route to the equality of all people. I’ve thought about writing a novel about my uncle who was murdered in Fort Collins in 1919. But the moment is at once too close and too far away.

And in the end, assuming I could ever research it, I would probably see another inept police force that made assumptions about what happened and let the case go cold. (I contacted that police force years ago and they have no records of anything.) Usually, these kinds of cases are handled by having the courthouse burned down, providing plausible deniability for everyone.

And, I certainly wasn’t going to interview my father and his two remaining siblings to learn, as reporters ask, “how did it feel to hear your older brother had been shot to death while walking to church?” I was trained as a journalist, but that’s one unforgivable question I don’t ask anyone.

I may have, over the years, allowed a bit of spite to get into some of my books, things said with the names changed about people who wronged me in various ways. They wronged me in such creative ways, I couldn’t resist including what they said and did. If I had James Patterson’s readership, those people might have found themselves in my work. I don’t, so they didn’t. There’s an old joke: “Don’t mess with me or I’ll put you in my next book.” That’s true enough, though libel laws force us to cover up the perpetrators so they don’t even recognize themselves in the plotlines.

Most authors, who have personal stories less interesting and important than Natasha Trethewey’s are tempted to “speak out” in print. But are stories, while often universal, are often “too usual” (spurned lovers, schoolhouse bullying, the ills of military service, etc.) to make a compelling novel. So, there’s much we cannot share. To this day, I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Yet, our lives become tangled with our novels in many ways, so discerning readers can probably find us if they read between the lines. Who we are is “large in our works” as Virginia Woolf wrote in Orlando. We can’t hide even though we think we can hide because the truth will out. As we grow older, we accumulate a  lot of memories that are bitter-sweet.  To write about them or to keep quiet, that is the question.

Will it serve a purpose if we write about ourselves under the guise of fiction? I think most writers are doing that without realizing it. But intentionally, like a tell-all story sold at grocery stores. That seems kind of sordid and probably has no overarching redeeming value.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Family murder never solved

My uncle, Frank M. Campbell, was murdered in Fort Collins, Colorado in November 1919 while he was walking to church. The murder was never solved. Some said it was probably a holdup attempt. Some said it was a case of mistaken identity. He was twenty years old, and the loss would haunt my father all his life and, from time to time, it haunts me even now long after the fact.

Some years ago, I tried to find out if the police department had any information. They didn’t. The case was open but too far back in time to be relevant. I even asked a psychic. He told me it was an ether-related crime, this at a time when ether was a drug problem like heroin and cocaine are today. My assumption was that Frank was approached by somebody who needed money to support his habit.

My grandparents and their three other children left Fort Collins and moved to California (the Los Gatos area) where they still were when I was born many years later in Berkeley. I don’t think this kind of crime ever leaves a family unscathed. My father and his two siblings, and of course their parents, carried this moment with them forever.  Even now, over a century later, I find myself angered and perplexed by it.

I wonder as I read the daily news about crimes across the country, when (if ever) the horrific memories of violent crimes ever fade away. I think the survivors never forget even though the news stories are gone with the wind.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page