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.



On re-reading ‘The Horse Whisperer’ again

Like many avid–or perhaps crazed–readers, I have several go to books that never disappoint me when I re-read them while waiting for something new to arrive in the mail. I always re-read my favorite books of the year several times–such as those by Ruta Sepetys, Sunetra Gupta, and John Hart. But when I truly want to escape reality, I turn to Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides or Nicholas Evans’ The Horse Whisperer.

I’ve seen the feaure films based on each of these with opposite reactions. I liked Pat Conroy’s book better than the movie and Robert Redford’s movie better than Nicholas Evans’ book.

I like The Horse Whisperer because it’s a strong story about the healing of a young injurered teenager (Grace) and a severely damaged Morgan horse (Pilgrim). I am among those who think Evans botched the ending of the book with a brutal death scene that was neither foreshadowed nor necessary. In fact, I dislike that ending so strongly, that I stop reading several pages before it occurs.

Fortunately, Robert Redford, who starred in and directed the film, gave us a much more realistic and suitable ending. While the truck wreck scene in the book is handled well, seeing it on the screen has such a strong impact, I think a lot of people who go back to the film again often skip it.

I suppose there are a lot of extenuating personal reasons why people re-read books multiple times. In my case, Montana is my favorite state, I used to ride when I was younger, and have always been fond of Morgan horses. Or, perhaps I just like the chemistry of the story and the characters in it. And then, working a ranch and being a horse whisperer would have suited me just fine.


“Mountain Song” is set on a Montana sheep ranch with absent parents, a nasty grandfather, and a medicine woman, and a Friesian horse, all of whom shape David Ward’s life into the mess that it becomes.

Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen

Actually a lot of people know even though they might not know that they know. The troubles I’ve seen, experienced, and caused often end up in my novels and short stories.

Naturally, I take out the names of the guilty except my own which is on the cover.

When the troubles are really bad, I call a tow truck and have them hauled into a cut-rate body shop where they (the purported experts) knock out the worst dents, fix the tail lights (so the cops have no excuse for pulling me over), and get rid of the blood. Once the trouble is dumped back in my driveway, nobody recognizes it for what it was.

People love reading about troubles because they want to vicariously experence the fear, angst, thrills, loathing, and sickness unto death without walking the walk. That’s why there’s always more bad news than good news, and why King, Grisham, and Patterson sell a lot of books. People always seem to be attracted to bad things that happen to other people and, when they can, they go on TV and say, “He seemed like such a nice kid.”

But for heaven’s sake, don’t keep a diary because long after you’re dead, dead, and gone, some Wikipedia writer will say, “Hey, you know all those murder mysteries Lucy Lake wrote about? She really killed all those people, changed their names, and laughed all the way to the bank to deposit her royalty checks.” That revelation wil increase sales after you’re dead, but the blemish to your legacy will probably delete your legacy.

So, what have we learned?

  1. Tidy up your troubles.
  2. Change the names of the guilty.
  3. Turn your troubles into riveting page turners.
  4. Destroy all diaries, letters, and Facebook entries that will haunt you and/or your heirs.
  5. Act like the kind of person who would never do the stuff you write about.

With this advice, James Patterson will be calling you soon to collaborate on a bestseller from Grand Central Publishing. No doubt, it will be a riveting page turner.

Once you’re rich and famous, feel free to list me as a mentor in your acknowledgements.


Sometimes, you can turn troubles into satire:

Writing in the rain

Rain is considered a sign of good luck. As rain symbolizes positive things such as change, renewal and life in general, it can be taken as a sign that good things are about to come your way. Rain is the symbolic announcement of a new beginning within a specific area of your life. – Calming Cosmos.

North Georgia has had more than it’s fair share of rain, much of it coming from tropical storm Fred, with more last night and today.

I live in the middle of that yellow stuff. Contrary to the title of this post, I don’t go outside and write in the rain. But when there’s rain outside, I write better. When I write, I always wing it. That is, I rely on inspiration and intuition. Never do this. All the experts say it’s wrong, and that accounts for why I’m not selling as well as James Patterson or Clive Cusler.

Intuition is like drugs. Once you’re addicted to it, that’s all she wrote. As far as I know, there aren’t any 12-step programs that will lead me back to reality. If there were, they wouldn’t help because I don’t want to come back to consual “real life”. I prefer dreams, magic, and everything that isn’t logic. That explains why my novels are in the genres of magical realism, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy.

I was having a bit of a problem with writer’s block (aka, too many sunny days) until Fred (the storm) came through town. I probably wrote more words in my novel in progress in a few days than I had in weeks. Since it’s still raining, I know what happens next in the story–a rare thing for me. (I almost never know.)

There are plenty of writing rules in the books on my shelf and more on the Internet. I ignore most of them. If you want to be Steven King or John Grisham and turn out salable bestsellers several times a year, you should probably write down those rules and follow them like a seaman recruit in navy bootcamp. Otherwise, do what you want without apology because doing what you want is who you are.

Being who you are is, as my grandparents used to say, that cat’s pajamas. There’s nothing better. You may not be either rich or famous–or even 100% happy. But, you’ll be you instead of somebody else. And that’s what matters.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four-book Florida Folk Magic Series, beginning with “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and ending with “Fate’s Arrows.”

I probably shouldn’t show you this

My aunt, uncle, and father are all long gone, so my promise (to my late aunt) was that I would never tell my late father about my late uncle’s book. All this happened during the war when I was stationed briefly in San Francisco and had an apartment down a steep hill from my aunt’s apartment.

She said I want to show you something but you can never tell your father. That “something” was a paperback novel called A Present for Harry (1967) written my my father’s younger brother Maury. Maury didn’t want Dad to know about it because, well, the cover and the title made it look sexier than it was and, according to my aunt, Maury just didn’t think it would help family harmony for the existence of the book, worse yet, the book itself, to get back to Florida where my parents lived.

My aunt gave me an extra copy after I signed on a stack of Bibles that I wouldn’show it to my parents. I think my rounger brother also read it and might (like I do) still have a copy.

It was all hush hush. Presumably, Uncle Maury wrote it as a joke and was surprised when it got published. Frankly I think the story itself was a hoot as well as all the hush hush.  My uncle had previously written a very popular  nonfiction book called Pay Dirt! San Francisco. The Romance of a Great City. It was well reviewed and praised, and my Dad was very proud of the book as well.

Suffice it to say, a novel with a beach babe on the cover about a wife who givers her husband a beach babe as a present was, shall we say, and my uncle saw it, a fall from grace. As far as I know, my parents never found out about it. My aunt as a live and let live relative, strongly independent, and one of my favorite people. I called her one time during a San Francisco earthquake because there was rather large fire near her apartment. She said she didn’t know anything about it because their power was out and she couldn’t see the news. However, she said, “My building didn’t fall down, so not to worry.”

And, as the years went by, it turned out that more than one of us shared our hush hush secrets with her. But the statute of limitations on this book has run out (I think).


This book is a bit gritty, so goodness only knows how my parents would have reacted to it had they still been around then it first came out. I would have told my aunt about it, though.

A cool selection of fiction

From my colleagues at Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Child of Sorrow by Melinda Clayton

When fourteen-year-old foster child Johnathan Thomas Woods is suspected of murder, an old letter and a tacky billboard advertisement lead him to the office of attorney Brian Stone. Recognizing the sense of hopelessness lurking under John’s angry façade, Stone is soon convinced of his innocence. When John offers up his lawn-mowing money as payment, Stone realizes this is a case he can’t refuse.

In the face of overwhelming evidence assembled by the prosecution, Stone and his team find themselves in a race against time to save an angry boy who’s experienced more than his fair share of betrayal, a boy who more often than not doesn’t seem interested in saving himself.

An Inchworm Takes Wing by Robert Hays

In the tranquil solitude of a darkened Room 12 in the ICU on the sixth floor of Memorial Hospital’s Wing C, a mortal existence is drawing to an end. His head and torso swathed in bandages, his arms and legs awkwardly positioned in hard casts and layers of heavy gauze, he’s surrounded by loved ones yet unable to communicate, isolated within his own thoughts and memories.

He does not believe himself to be an extraordinary man, simply an ordinary one, a man who’s made choices, both good and bad. A man who was sometimes selfish, sometimes misguided, sometimes kind and wise. A man who fought in a war in which he lost a part of his soul, who then became a teacher and worked hard to repair the damage.

When faced with the end, how does one reconcile the pieces of an ordinary life? Does a man have the right to wish for wings to carry him to a summit he believes he doesn’t deserve to reach?

Chasing Eve by Sharon Heath

Everyone expected big things from Ariel Thompkins. Wasn’t she the girl who’d roped her friends into one madcap adventure after another, who’d met the challenge of losing both parents before turning eighteen, who’d gone on to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA? So how did this livewire end up delivering the day’s mail for the U.S. Postal Service, hunkering down each night with her half-blind cat in front of the TV, ruminating over the width of her thighs? It looked as though it would take a miracle to get her out of her rut. Who knew that miracle would come in the form of an acutely candid best friend and a motley crew of strangers—a homeless drunk once aptly nicknamed “Nosy,” a lonely old woman seeing catastrophe around every corner, a shy teenager fleeing sexual abuse, a handsome young transplant from the Midwest with a passion for acting and for Ariel herself? Not to mention the fossil remains of a flat-faced crone who just might have been the ancestress of everyone alive today? Chasing Eve takes us on a funny, sad, hair-raising adventure into the underbelly of the City of Angels, where society’s invisible people make a difference to themselves and to others, and where love sometimes actually saves the day.

Who’s Munching by Milkweed? by Smoky Zeidel

When Ms. Gardener discovers something has been munching on her milkweed plants, she embarks on a fun and educational monarch butterfly journey that enchants both children and adults. 

With Photographs. Zeidel is a Master Gardener.

Some books go nowhere fast

“I’m currently reading a book published by one of the major companies, and nothing happens. Well, that’s not exactly true. Stuff happens. Then more stuff happens. And even more stuff happens. But I am now three-quarters of the way through the book, and all I’ve gleaned from the story is that a lot of stuff happens.” – Pat Bertram

Years ago, we might have labeled such books as “nowheresville” and said that their authors had it “made in the shade” financially speaking because readers were being lured into their novels with catchy titles that never delivered the goods. For one thing, there probably weren’t any goods. Or, if there were, they (the goods) went bad in the first draft and got worse during the revision process where the introduction of lovely scenery, philosophical debates, backstories about characters with no substantive roles in the story, and sex scenes in flea-infested cat houses failed to turn up a storyline. Reviewers could at least say, “All the smoke and mirrors were pretty.”

As it turns out, somebody dropped a gun in a bunch of finger paint.

Recently I’ve been reading novels with seductive titles like When the Grim Reaper Smiles, The Quantum Murder Syndrome, and Terror Strikes in The Old Familiar Places, and I’ve discovered that when the author doesn’t have a clue about a plot, he fills the books with backstory bios of all the bad guys, apparently to impress us about just what the good guys are up against. What they (the good guys) are up against appears to be the fact that they haven’t done enough significant stuff to merit a Wikipedia page, much less a starring role in When the Grim Reaper Smiles.

Perhaps they say something snarky like “ask not for who the grim reaper smiles, it’s just gas.” Well. I really don’t want to pay $14.95 for a novel where that’s the high point of the story. Using my best Jack Nicholson impression from “A Few Good Men,” I want to say (to the author), “Please tell me you have more to offer your readers than a few lines that are so lame they can’t even walk with crutches.”

In the old days (whenever the hell they were) prospective authors were told to create a list of characters and write down a list of physical attributes and a résumé of their lives prior to the beginning of the novel. Somewhere along the line, authors started sweeping all these notes into the manuscript without adding “the goods.” Sometimes the authors added a lot of statistics about military hardware and what the bad guys might do with it should anything happen in the novel.

Look, I read novels to escape from the sins of the world. When they don’t help me, even during a lost weekend, I feel cheated and want to leave a -5 star review on Amazon. After becoming an addict to one drug or another, I want to sue the author for creating my need to escape the sins of his or her novel. Now, suddenly, I’m going nowhere fast and can’t find a book to save me.

Frankly, I want to read novels that go somewhere and tempt me to come along for the ride.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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One reviewer said that while the book was funny, it was just an excuse for a lot of sex and booze. No kidding!

Shoot them now while they’re still happy

That was Dorothy Parker’s advice for those who had friends who wanted to be writers.

When I was a college English department instructor, my “Bible” was The End of Intelligent Writing: Literary Politics in America (1974) by Richard Kostelanetz. My colleagues thought it was overly grim, though they didn’t worry about literary politics because they weren’t teaching their students how to become writers. Their students were simply supposed to enjoy literature and then if they enjoyed it enough, teach it to others.

It was a closed-loop quite soundly divorced from considerations of what it took to write and produce that literature. According to my “Bible” prospective writers were up against a closed club. The author called “The New York Review of Books” the New York Review of Each Other’s Books. The club would let you in if you, say–killed somebody and wrote a book about it or if you were a famous, and hopefully infamous, celebrity submitting a tell-all book about almost anything. But fiction: a hard sell then and now.

I should have been a firefighter.

I’ve been haunted for years by the words of author Lila Shaara posted in Beatrice in 2006: “I grew up seeing writing as something that gripped you in poisoned talons, gave you little or nothing back, drove you to addiction and depression, and killed you young.”

Some writers will disagree. They are the 1% who dodged the bullet when we tried to shoot them and somehow clawed their way through the politics of publishers and agents and against overwhelming odds, and are still happy. (Too happy, I would say, from what I read in their newsletters.) The other 99% are insane or selling used cars in Fargo.

Once upon a time, there was a gag that most newspapermen and women thought they had a book inside them, the response being, that was a good place for it to stay. I agree. These days, they can self-publish and potentially earn enough per month to buy a happy meal. I’m not sure that’s an improvement over the world of 1974 when who you were dictated whether or not you succeeded. Or met with an “accident.”

I think the Mafia operates the same way,


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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‘Firefly Lane’ by Kristin Hannah

Best I can tell, we really escaped 2020 and are now slogging our way through 2021. If this true, then I’m 12 years behind the times reading Firefly Lane.

It’s a well-written story about two schoolgirls who, though opposites in many ways, become close friends and make a pact to remain best friends forever. One  (Tully) becomes a rich and famous news anchor. The other (Kate), who showed a lot of promise as a writer, ended up having a busy family life as a stay-at-home mom.

There’s a lot of realistic push-me/pull-you between Tully and Kate because their lives unfold quite differently, leading to differences of style and opinion, including the question of whether or not Kate is overprotective when it comes to her daughter. Tully and the daughter think so.

If you read Hannah’s afterword, you probably understood why she ended the book as she did. She handled it well. Nonetheless, I didn’t like it. I saw it as adding insult to injury insofar as Kate’s role in the story was concerned. Kate’s life was rather that of the Biblical Job and the ending made her a tragic character rather than a gracefully aging mother contentedly watching her children grow into adults partly in spite of Tully and because of Tully.

Worth reading,  but it needed something different and less predictable in the final chapters. I haven’t watched any episodes of the Netflix series.


Some readers wanted a bombastic ending to “Sarabande.” I chose a minimalist approach that reflected, in my view, who the character was and how she had changed.

Explaining research to a non-writer

Every time a feature film set in the past is released, it doesn’t take long for the press to start finding research gaffes from minor stuff like cars on the street before they were made, songs being sung before they were released, and then major problems such as battles being fought in the wrong country and world leaders showing up after they were dead.

It’s hard to explain how such things happen to our readers and viewers. Hollywood, of course, is more of a problem because so many people are involved with each production. Major authors have multiple editors and fact checkers. Small press authors usually have to roll their own research and hope for the best.

When authors write novels, they are primarily concerned with the storyline and the characters. Yet, as one writes, there are dozens of things to check:

  • The characters, such as my protagonist in Fate’s Arrows drive cars. Okay, what makes were they and when were they available?
  • My protagonist is an archer. What kind of bow did she use  and what kind of damage would an arrow inflict when it hit a person?
  • My protagonist, Pollyanna, was a Marine who learned Karate in Okinawa like a lot of other soldiers at the end of WWII. So, what techniques will she use when attacked back in the states?
  • Most people know little or nothing about the Korean War. Fortunately, I had a good source book and that allowed my character to mention things that happened, along with the exploits of the forerunner of the CIA.
  • In the novel, she’s auditing the books of a small grocery. Fine. What products are in the store?
  • And since the KKK is involved–this is Florida in 1954–that means reading more about that group than anyone would want to.

Basically, if somebody coughs in your novel and grabs for a bottle of cough medicine, you have to find out whether that cough medicine even existed when the novel was set.

If you were around at the time and place your novel is set, you can’t even rely on your memory.  Most people don’t remember nitty gritty specifics. They know they grew up listening to a song on the radio, but do they know what date it was released? Probably not.

When we write our novels, everything is open to question even though we’re writing fiction.