Retirement, maybe

My father who was a college dean and author worked into his 70s. Now, I’m doing the same thing even though I haven’t taught a college course for years, opting to rely on money saved during my successful years in the gigolo business to help make ends meet. There are, of course, writers older than I am who don’t have the resources from a shady past to supplement their literary output.

When I was in his school, I looked at the careers of Salinger, Elison, Bradbury, Ginsberg, Rand, and others and told people that’s what I wanted to do after I graduated from college. Most of them laughed. Now, years later, I see why they did even though then and now I don’t see that laugh as very supportive.

I view the notion of retirement as the time in a person’s life when s/he stops doing what s/he was passionate about for most of his/her life. S/he ends up with no salary, few benefits, and ends up moving into a home where everyone eats jello three times a day. There was nothing exciting about that kind of life, so retirement seemed like a silly thing to do unless you had a lot of stolen wealth hidden in offshore accounts to pay for a big-ass RV and a lifetime of driving around from one scenic tourist destination to another.

That doesn’t excite me either, though I think the odds have gotten pretty slim that I’m suddenly going to be the next James Patterson. So, I think about just stopping writing books and spending my days reading. Everyone has to think about this sooner or later unless they’re Tom Clancy who keeps churning out books even though he’s been dead since 2013. Maybe that cap he wears in his author’s picture is magic and allows him to submit manuscripts from “the other side.”

I used to have a cap like that but during the dark days of Vietnam, I traded it for a pack of cigarettes.

Of course, I might still get a call from Oprah’s book club.

My bookshelves have an infinite number of books, so if I want to retire, I’ve got enough stuff to read to last me, well, forever.



The Hunt for Red October – Finally Read the book

The movie was great: plenty of action, great cast. I’ve seen it multiple times. Since I was low on factory-fresh recent books and/or waiting for those prices to go down, I picked up a copy of the paperback and read it out of curiosity. It’s well written and was a fun read.

I had to work to keep from seeing the movie in my mind’s eye while reading the book. I’d rather let my imagination create “what things look like” as I read, but that’s difficult to do when you’ve already seen the movie. So, I kept seeing Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin.

Needless to say, the book had a lot more going on in it than the movie. Yet, I can see why they cut what they cut (to avoid a four-hour film).  In general, I liked the book’s plot more than the movie’s plot because it gave the reader a much better picture of what might really happen as the (seemingly) entire Russian navy suddenly approaches the U.S. in search of their rogue sub, leaving the powers that be in our government having to respond in case all those Russian ships out there are an invasion.

One of the best scenes of the submarine Red October racing along the seafloor in a dangerous area doesn’t even happen in the book. I was disappointed in that.  Yet, intercepting Red October is much more complex in the book. I appreciated that because it seemed closer to what would happen in “real life.”

I missed the scene from the movie in which Red October travels up a river or estuary with Baldwin (CIA) and Connery (submarine captain) talking about the fact that the area has some great fishing. Both men liked fishing and Connery was hoping he’d be able to do it in his new country. It was a nice scene.

But, I’ve come to expect this, the simplification of movie versions to fit into a manageable running time. So I end up liking both the book and the film versions for what they were within the constraints of the presentations. For those who have read the book and seen the movie, there’s a decent comparison here.

If any of you have read the book and also watched the movie, I’d be interested in your impressions of the two versions of the story.


I’d like to see a movie version of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Gosh, is so and so still alive?

Do you ever see news stories about authors and actors you thought long gone and think, “Gosh, is s/he still alive?” Or, if the story is an obituary notice, one’s response might be, “Gee, I thought they were already dead.”

On Facebook, it’s not always easy to tell. Occasionally somebody posts a link to an obituary and people think, “Oh no,” and then somebody says, “Hey guys, this happened last year.”

The bottom line is this: the general population thinks the elderly are already dead–or should be. People assume Clint Eastwood will be directing and starring in movies with Oscar buzz when he’s 120. But, if you’re not old and not Clint Eastwood, folks assume your dead.

I assumed Don DeLillo was dead until he released a new book this year. Good for you, I thought. My mood went downhill quickly when one critic said the novel looked like a rough draft of one of the author’s earlier novels. Hell, he’s 84, give him a break.

Some of the confusion comes from the romance novel biz in which the books of dead authors keep getting released under new titles. Years ago, a lot of people thought Victoria Holt was still alive when she wasn’t while others thought she was dead before she was.

I wonder how many people think Tom Clancy is still alive and still writing “Op Center” novels.

Every year about this time, we start seeing such headlines as “People We Lost This Year.” I think we also need, “People We Lost Who We Presumed were Already Long Gone” and “People We Presumed Were Long Gone Who Are Still With Us.” In the political arena, we need “People Who Are Still Alive Who Shouldn’t Be.”

Sure, this sounds rather cynical, but the public needs somebody out there “keeping score” to keep us from stumbling into so many faux pas.

I think now of the Lee Marvin character in “Cat Ballou” in which he and his horse were always drunk. He stumbled into a funeral thinking it was a birthday celebration and acted accordingly. I hate it when that happens.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel “Special Investigative Reporter” is filled with one faux pas after another.

‘Tom Clancy Enemy Contact’ by Mike Maden

I read the Tom Clancy franchise books to escape whatever I need to escape. Now it’s probably the pandemic and everything related to it.

Enemy Contact is another instalment in the series featuring Jack Ryan, Jr. and the “Campus” organization. The Campus handles black ops interventions that the government can’t or won’t handle. The stories are action-oriented and involve a cast of operatives that has evolved throughout the series.

This book is missing about everything that has made the series worth reading, though the stories have become less interesting after Mark Greaney’s True Faith and Allegiance came out in 2016.

What is this book is missing:

  • Most of the primary Campus characters from the best of the previous books.
  • The black-ops action which has been the series’ true focus. Jack Ryan, Jr.’s cover story with the organization is that he’s a financial analyst, though those duties don’t usually play heavily into the plots. In this story, he spends most of the novel traveling in Poland looking for potential financial irregularities and/or treasonous associations in the investments of a U.S. Senator who ticked on the President of the U.S. President (Ryan’s dad).
  • Ryan travels from one contact/company to another with Lilianna, a Polish agent who serves as a chauffeur/driver. He’s attracted to her but keeps the relationship professional. Since he’s working/posing only as a financial analyst, she has no idea he has black-ops skills. The meetings are rather routine, so the agent’s police skills are wasted, and we end up with more pages of Polish history and food information than anything else. Meanwhile, a more pressing IT security mess is developing that could impact U. S. security agencies, but we only hear snippets about it–and Ryan isn’t focused on that.
  • With about ten percent of the book left, we finally get some black-ops action. Ryan is blind sided by it probably because he has been rather cavalier about the potential dangers of going around asking questions of bad people. He escapes one another group of bad guys only to get pulled into another group of bad guys while he’s off work. The action here is handled well.
  • Then, suddenly all the other minor plot lines get resolved, most in a long epilogue, and the book ends. Formally, there is closure (though minimal) for the national security issues, but none for Ryan’s personal losses.

What a mess.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s short story collection Widely Scattered Ghosts is currently free on Smashwords. (epub or mobi format).

The cheapness of human life in black ops novels

Surprisingly, black ops novels give me a sense of closure in a world where’s little closure. Another pacifist friend and I discovered that we both watched the TV show “24” because, while “real life” often made us feel powerless in the face of all the issues with seemingly no answers or bad answers, Jack Bauer’s actions on the show brought us a feeling that sometimes bad guys are caught and threats are neutralized.

I feel the same way when I’m reading “Tom Clancy,” James Patterson, and other series in which the good guys see a threat, analyze it, and then put a stop to it. Like Jack Bauer, these good guys operate in groups that are out from under any umbrella of legalities that (as they say) “hampers” black ops.

What bothers me, though, is how cheap life seems to be in these books. If you watched “24” you know there were car chases in which dozens of vehicles (driven by every day innocent people) were shown blowing up, turning over, falling off bridges, etc. in the background. Any police force conducting that kind of chase in “real life” would be on the carpet in minutes. But it “24” those people are collateral damage and (apparently) not so bad a price to play for Bauer catching a notorious bad guy.

While black ops novels seldom have those signature car chases that have been popular in the James Bond movies, a lot of cardboard characters always get blown away with little notice or regret en route to “a more-important goal.”

I’m sure ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see mass numbers of civilian casualties as a sign of success.  Fortunately, the good guys in over-the-top novels, movies, and TV shows aren’t trying to create massive civilian casualties. In fact, in these stories, most of the cardboard characters killed are bad guys with no names who stepped ou from behind a building with blazing Kalashnikovs and got taken out by the good guys. No harm, no foul, right?

Perhaps bad guys and good guys really feel this way in “real life,” and by that I mean, operations that fall into the category of black ops rather than war.  If so, this bothers me more than the deaths in fiction; with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened.

In “real life,” I’m against black ops, but that doesn’t mean that novels about black ops aren’t serving as addictive painkillers against the insanity of the world.


Malcolm R.. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande.”


What if Harry Potter Bought the House Next Door to You?


Few questions are more important to a writer. So, what if Harry Potter bought the house next door and wasn’t shy about who he was and what he could do? Really, Harry Potter himself, not Daniel Radcliffe.

Of course, the real Harry Potter—if there is one—is part of a secret world that “in real life” we would never know anything about. There’s a reason for that: people who are different are usually shunned, persecuted or worse.

The first traditional rule for the adept—alchemist, psychic, shaman, wizard—is KEEP SILENT. If he lived next door to any of us, the real Harry Potter would probably appear as unassuming as Clark Kent in the Superman stories.

But, as long as we’re playing WHAT IF?, let’s say Harry is sick and tired of staying in his figurative closet. (Actually, he did stay in a closet at his foster parents’ house—what a nice touch of symbolism on Rowling’s part).

Time for the Welcome Wagon

When a new family moves into a neighborhood, people are curious. They drop by with pies and casseroles partly as a way of starting things off with a friendly “hello” and partly as a way of getting a look at the new folks to assess how they’re going to fit in. Times might be changing, but even today there are many neighborhoods in which the “welcome committee” will be displeased if a Black, Jew, Muslim, or Gay answers the door. In other neighborhoods, Whites, Catholics, and Japanese “don’t belong.”

In scholarly literature, those who don’t belong are often referred to as The Other. They are outside the mainstream. In the Harry Potter books, witches, elves, wizards and giants are outside the mainstream of English society. Even within the magical world itself, there’s a hierarchy about who’s “in” and who’s “out.”

Fantasy offers readers unlimited opportunities to come to terms with what’s different, what goes against the mainstream scheme of things, and to consider whether the consensus reality of “real life” must be engraved in stone or not. Fantasy lets us safely question “what is.” While reading a Harry Potter book or watching a Harry Potter movie, it’s easy to feel simpatico with Harry, Ron, Hermione,  and Dumbledore, and perhaps even to feel a bit sorry for the everyday people in London who don’t know anything about the magic in their midst. Just think of all they’re missing!

But What Happens When We Get to the End of the Book and the Last Movie?

Here come Harry’s friends!

Picture this. The moving van has pulled away and the new family—who looked normal enough while carrying boxes into the house—has gone inside. So, you put together your best cherry pie or your favorite Hamburger Helper meal (depending on your skill in the kitchen), and you go next door and ring the bell.

A dark-haired guy comes to the door. He’s wearing well-aged dungarees and a polo shirt. He smiles and says “Hello.” But, before you can introduce yourself, his son—whom you can see down the entry hall in the living room—shouts Avis! and a flock of pigeons appears out of nowhere and flies past you en route to the wide open sky.

What happens now?

  • The guy who answered the door says, “Hi, I’m Harry,” and acts like the thing with the birds didn’t happen.
  • You ask, “How did he do that” and Harry says, “No big deal, it’s just James Sirius having a bit of fun.”

It’s not quite like seeing it in the movie, is it? As I play with this WHAT IF question, I like to think that the world has progressed a lot between the time when TV viewers were watching Rob and Laura Petrie at 148 Bonnie Meadow Road in the Dick Van Dyke Show and all the Wisteria Lane families on Desperate Housewives. We are more likely to welcome Harry today than we were in the 1960s, aren’t we?

What do you think happens if Harry Potter moves in to your neighborhood and, along with his wife Ginny, makes no secret of his skill with spell casting and potions? Will the neighbors accept him with open arms the way they did while reading Rowling’s books, or will they stay away?

This is not a WHAT IF question I plan to use for the plot of my next novel. If I were Dan Brown, I might show that Rowling’s books weren’t fiction at all and that the guy next door is probably attracting the wrong kind of attention from, say, Homeland Security, the mob, and various terrorist groups. If I were Katherine Neville, I might show that in spite of his skills, Harry needs the help of my protagonist, say, Bill Smith, who has to go on a search for the real Nicholas Flamel to save the neighborhood. Or, if I were Tom Clancy, I’d probably have a couple of CIA operatives show up to assess “which side” Harry was planning to help “win” with his most powerful spells.

Do We Want the Fantasy Characters to Just Stay in Their Books Where They Belong?

We love fantasy whether it’s epic, contemporary, urban, steampunk, heroic or another sub-genre. In the books, Harry Potter was viewed as the hero who saved the magical world and (by readers) as one of the most-loved characters in fiction.

But WHAT IF Harry, Ginny and the kids moved into your neighborhood. Would it all become one happy family with baseball games on Saturdays and Quidditch matches on Sundays? Or, would Harry, Ginny, and their friends from Hogwarts and Diagon Alley remain separate in their house and yard as The Other?

What I think would happen and what I would like to see happen don’t match up here. Even so, I like asking the question WHAT IF?


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, including the 2011 novel Sarabande from Vanilla Heart Publishing.