To all who come here

I appreciate it. Your presence has made 2019 a better year and it needed to be better.

Wikipedia Photo

Those of us who tell stories–in books, at parties, around the dinner table, or even in blogs like this one–hope that some of the stories will connect with some of those who have come to the storyteller’s place.

Even the storyteller knows not the ending of a story when s/he begins telling it, just as now I am typing this line with no idea what line will follow it.

Is it luck? No, I don’t think so because one thing has become clear over time; stories know where they are going and just need somebody there to serve as a channel to allow them out into the world.

You have your stories, too, even if you don’t put them in books or blogs. Maybe they’re about your life or maybe they come unbidden from your dreams and your imagination. To all who hear and read your stories, the stories and the listeners/readers are gifts.

From the universe perhaps or from your heart and soul.

Malcolm

Co-ordinating Christmas Gifts, Or Else

When we were kids, my brothers and I–and to some extent, our parents–posted Christmas wish lists on the refrigerator door. These not only let people know what we were interested in, but also were a promise that when records and books were concerned, we wouldn’t buy them for ourselves until the new year.

My wife and I make Christmas lists for the same reason. With online purchases so easy to make, we don’t want to find out on Christmas Day that the books we though each other might want have already been bought.

We exchange Christmas lists with my brothers for the same reason. And, we circulate a larger Christmas list for my granddaughters. For one thing, people our age have no idea what children a thousand miles away might want for books and hobbies and games. And, since we don’t want duplications, my daughter creates the list and sends it to my wife who shares it with my sister-in-law. Whoever sees it first, erases the things we buy so that there can’t be any duplications.

I suppose the alternative is sending the same darn thing every year: a box of favorite booze, maple syrup or candies, and other edible holiday treats where duplication doesn’t matter. After all, if every one of my relatives sent me a bottle of single malt Scotch, it’s not like it will go bad waiting for me to get to it!

(I seldom send copies of my own novels to family members. They’ve been so supportive of my career, that they usually order their own copies as soon as each book is released.)

As usual, it often costs more to ship Christmas gifts than it takes to purchase them. Fortunately, my wife is very good at wrapping gifts. I package them up and take them to the post office. Sure, we could buy them online, include gift wrapping, and have them sent directly to family members, but that just seems kind of crass. we also avoid sending checks because that seems to be just too easy a way to let non-involvement take over the holidays.

So, how do y’all approach gifts to family and friends far away? Same thing every year (the Scotch route), edibles you know they like, buy it and hope for the best, a circulating wish list, or have you just said “to heck with it” and stopped exchanging gifts altogether?

One thing is certain, now that I’m adult and having to co-ordinate gifts to the four corners of the galaxy, I appreciate what my folks, grandparents, aunts, and uncles did when I was a kid and Christmas looked so easy.

Malcolm

“A riveting great read from first page to last, “Special Investigative Reporter” showcases author Malcom R. Campbell’s impressive narrative storytelling talents. Certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “Special Investigative Reporter” is also available in a paperback edition (9781950750221, $12.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).” – Midwest Book Review

 

Buying Christmas Gifts for My Granddaughters

My granddaughters live in Maryland and my wife and I live in Georgia, so we need to order Christmas gifts early in November so there’s time for my wife to wrap them (my gift wrapping is a joke), box them up, and mail them. Fortunately, my daughter helps by sending a long list. We don’t see Feya and Beatrice as often as we wish (my cancer kept us from having a springtime visit this year), so we need a little help. We share the list with my sister in law after we check off what we’ve chosen.

On the wish list.

This year, Freya wants a book on learning Japanese and Beatrice wants a book on learning French. I had no luck learning either language, but far be it from me to say anything negative about the family gene pool when it comes to languages. Freya, who loves ballet, also loves to draw. Beatrice had a slew of books on her list. Okay, I’m happy to see this, so the gene pool isn’t entirely bankrupt.

The girls watch a lot of kids’ movies on Netflix. That and their interactions with other kids at school introduce them to fads and pastimes that I don’t know anything about. Looking at these gift ideas is an education. Manga and Anime drawing–I have no idea what that is even though I’ve been to Japan.

When we were at Disney World last year and had just left the Japanese pavilion (where I sampled the sake), I saw something cute and inadvertently said, “Kawaii!!!!!!.” My granddaughters whirled around. “How to do you know that, Grandpa?” “From watching you,” I said, though I believe they were sceptical.

My daughter and her husband have been giving their daughters a culture-rich life of museums and parks and plays. I highly approve. So, their wish lists for Christmas and birthdays don’t include guns and cherry bombs and acid rock music. Whew.

Since my book Widely Scattered Ghosts is dedicated to my granddaughters, I sent two, signed copies to my daughter a year ago. I said it’s too soon for either Freya or Beatrice to have a copy of this. But when the time is right, they can see them. It’s still too soon. But whenever the time is right, I hope they enjoy grandpa’s stories.

Malcolm

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

 

 

 

Conjuring up that Christmas Spirit

At some point in my life, giving gifts became a lot more fun than receiving gifts–not that I plan to turn down gifts. I don’t know when it happened. Perhaps, I became less greedy as I got older after left my parents’ household and started my own. Perhaps, my focus was on utilitarian needs that seemed too lame to serve as Christmas gift ideas for those who asked for them. I’m at a loss to explain when it happened.

Thomas Nast, 1881 – Wikimedia Commons Photo

As for why, that’s easy. Whether one see’s Christmas as “Yule” or Chrismas as a Christian holiday, Spirit takes precedence over getting stuff. We invite Spirit into our homes with wreathes and garlands and trees and lights–and for those of us who recall earlier times–with holly and Yule logs and candles and those twelve days between December 25th and Twelfth Night. Spirit encourages us to see the smiles on loved one’s faces when they open their gifts. And yes, Spirit reminds us to be gracious when we open our own gifts, items others have carefully chosen.

Spirit reminds us how to love each other within the ancient continuity of the changing seasons and their holy days. When we listen to Spirit, we see Christmas and/or Yule as more than a race to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. It’s a series of days, a time of beauty and lights and song, a time of doing for others, a time that shows us how wonderful the world would be if the Spirit of that time stayed overtly with us throughout the year.

I’m not sure Spirit is with us on Black Friday because on that day, excessive consumerism seems to grab us by our throats and propel us toward big dollars and large numbers of presents (often from children’s lengthy Christmas lists) rather than finding that one special gift that will never be forgotten. Okay, if we get it at half price, I guess that’s okay, but not if we have to wrestle a horde of shoppers in multiple store aisles to filch it from the unwashed rabble.

Spirit probably doesn’t mind how we focus our celebrations–Hanukkah, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Kwanza, Yule, Epiphany/Twelfth Night–as long as we conjure that Spirit into our lives and share it with others.  Trappings and gifts without Spirit are empty. If you have a favorite movie that helps you step away from the cares of the world into the wonders of this time, Spirit approves whether you prefer White Christmas or A Christmas Carol or Holiday Inn or The Polar Express or It’s a Wonderful Life. No doubt, Spirit loves more songs than we can count.

My intuition tells me Spirit loves eggnog because, as an 1890 article in the Times said, “And what is eggnog? Worcester says, “A drink made up of spirit, milk, sugar, and eggs beaten up together.” I like eggnog almost as much as mulled wine and mince pies and an endless pot of hot chocolate. Since these things are among those that remind me of Spirit, Spirit smiles upon them.

Spirit is not a shelf of booze, though being a little tipsy from time to time might help us notice Spirit because losing ourselves is the only way to find Spirit. The morning hangover reminds us there are better ways to conjure Spirit than getting drunk.  Most of us know that, of course. However you celebrate this time of year year, I hope you find the true spirit of your beliefs and share your smiles with those you love.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

In search of stocking stuffers

I put on my best suit this morning for the yearly pilgrimage over to the “On the Run” shoppe at the Exxon station for stocking stuffers. While browsing, I enjoyed a giant sausage biscuit, several Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a giant cup of coffee with a dash of skimmed milk in it.

Shopping at Exxon isn’t as much fun as it was in the old days when it was called Esso (still is in Canada) when potential stocking stuffers included spark plugs, fan belts, radiator hoses and clamps. These days, service stations don’t know anything about your car anymore exept that it needs gasoline.

While healthy and tasty, those greasy sausage biscuits don’t mesh well with the other stuffers in the stocking, especially after sitting there for a few days and attracting the cats. So, it’s all packaged delights this year: beef jerky,  fried pork rinds, Twinkies, Snickers, gum and more gum, Lance crackers and a quart of Quaker State.

I felt good about myself and my purchases when I left the store, especially when I heard on the radio that a lot of people haven’t even started Christmas shopping this year because they were either drunk or thought that if they closed their eyes, it (Christmas) would go away. Those who did remember at the last minute were down at ritzy stores like Walmart and BestBuys the feed & seed using up 2-3 tanks of Exxon gasoline looking for a parking space.

Gift Wrapping

The gifts hadn’t yet been wrapped (not counting the stocking stuffers), so I hit that project as soon as I got home. Since my wrapped presents usually look like they’ve been used as clay pigeons and/or run over by an F-150, I hung the paper between to pine trees and and blasted away at it with my 12-gauge and some #4 shot. Then I backed the tractor over it.

I put the resulting mess in a 33-gallon leaf bag along with the unwrapped gifts, shook it up, and attached a bow on top. It’s going to be a big hit.

I hope your stocking stuffers, gifts and wrapping are under control. If not, just say you couldn’t find a parking place at the feed & seed and that the gifts over at Exxon had already been picked through by long-haul truckers.

–Malcolm

The Kindle editions of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire and The Sun Singer are currently on sale for only $3.99.

So are other fine e-books by authors from Vanilla Heart Publishing.

December 22nd Checklist

  1. Sneak wife’s last present into house and wrap it without getting caught.
  2. Eat nutritious raspberry PopTart for Breakfast.
  3. Read another chapter of “Rhett Butler’s People.”
  4. Find out what the cats are tearing up in the livingroom.
  5. Steal firewood from drunk guy next door.
  6. Remind people to read short stories on my Eye Blink Fiction site and leave comment for chance to win copy of “Tethered.”
  7. Check fruitcake supply.
  8. Wish Merry Christmas to Nancy, FF&F, Elizabeth, Montucky, Pinhole, Nora, Esmaa, Sue, Freya, Lesa, Johanna, Doug, Ian, Josh, Barry, Mary, Rebecca, Trish and Roxane.
  9. Put out more bread crumbs and sunflower seeds for birds.
  10. Remind cats not to eat birds.
  11. Put link to Montucky’s snow photographs on my Facebook page.
  12. Have “precautionary shot” of Scotch to keep from getting flu.
  13. Ask Obama why he appointed Ken Salazar to Interior post.
  14. Lure more people to Writer’s Notebook weblog with post giving away first secret of storytelling.
  15. Adopt a wolf.
  16. Refurbish dreamcatchers for 2009.
  17. Send SPAM Christmas cards to Tammy22, Viagra Bob, EasyCredit Sue, and Mrs. Libertado Andelusia in Liberia as my way of saying thanks for all the goof ball e-mail you sent me this year.
  18. Buy ammo for shooting people with bah humbug attitude.
  19. Make sure I have a solid alibi.
  20. Smile more often.

candycane2

Give Books as Christmas Gifts This Year

We’re told these are hard times and it’s easy to believe it.

So, we’re contemplating a more frugal Christmas than usual. Good news: books are cheaper than most of the gifts people flock to the stores to buy.

Author Joshua Henkin (Matrimony) notes in a guest post in today’s Emerging Writers Network blog that with book sales down 40%,  publisher layoffs being announced, and more independent bookstores closing that “what’s at stake is the future of books, and of reading culture.”

Sure, he says, Rowling, Meyer and other authors will continue to publish, but what does the future hold for other authors?

Long term, I’m not worried about the industry, for I think publishers will see that their old business models have become wasteful and ineffective. That will change. So, too, the way we read books. There will be less paper and more Kindle. This will take time.

For now, Henkin suggests that “You really can make a difference.  A typical paperback novel costs less than fifteen dollars, far cheaper than a necklace or a sweater or dinner at a nice restaurant.”

Authors Guild President Roy Blount, suggests we should buy books now and stockpile them for birthdays throughout the year and even pick up children’s books for friends who look like “they may eventually give birth.”

If you need ideas, take a look at the Books for the Holidays site. And then, if you’re children are still young enough, read them some fresh bedtime stories. If they’ve left the nest, read a story to yourself rather than watching TV or checking the feed on Twitter before you turn in for the night.

Peruse My Top Picks at Powell’s Books.

On the road to Christmas

Actions that are from our desire to receive for the self-alone connect us to the path of Darkness. Actions that are for our desire to share connect us to the path of Light.Michael Berg

Children traditionally experience the magic of Christmas in part by speculating about the gifts beneath the tree. They wonder what will Santa bring them and can hardly sleep the night before as they toss and turn thinking about opening their presents and shaking out their stockings.

As children grow older, they slowly begin to learn that a great part of the joy of Christmas comes from giving, from finding something special that another person will like. My parents and grandparents were far more excited about my reactions to the gifts I received than their own gifts.

There are some balancing acts here. One is keeping gifts and expectations within reason so that Christmas isn’t viewed as a time to get absurd amounts of loot. Another is keeping one’s ego out of the picture so that one is giving in order to share and to make the recipient happy, not to be praised and loved for the size of the gift.

At Christmas time, people frequently say they wish the magic of the Christmas tree were a part of their lives year-around. I don’t expect they’re talking about handing out gifts 24/7 every day of the year. The magic, I think, comes from being willing to share what we know and what we have and who we are. It comes from having a “you first” philosophy.

Perhaps we start first with our family and friends simply by being more available in the multiple senses of the word, and then we take another step and expand on that. And then another step after that. We all know how we’ve felt on Christmas mornings watching children open gifts from us they hardly dared hope for. Their surprise, their smiles, their delight–we can have that feeling again of witnessing that by giving of ourselves, our experience, our knowledge, our time, and our compassion.

NOTE: On December 11th, Shelagh Watkins, creator and editor of the recently published Forever Friends anthology will visit with us to talk about the book. I hope you’ll join us with comments and questions.