Author Archives: Malcolm R. Campbell

About Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of "Sarabande," "The Sun Singer," "At Sea," "Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire," and "Conjure Woman's Cat."

Me, Too – New York City, June 1967

Standard

“I’d like to scrape up some sense of triumph over the fact that many courageous women have raised their voices. But I don’t feel triumphant. I feel humiliated and angry. They hate us. That’s my immediate thought, with each new revelation: They hate us. And then, a more sick-making suspicion: They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.” – Gillian Flynn in “A Howl”

What I have to say after fifty years of silence is relatively insignificant when contrasted with what many courageous women have lived with and finally come forward as the true silence breakers–as Time Magazine calls them–to tell us about the verbal and physical sexual harassment they suffered through.

Grand Central Station – Wikipedia Photo.

Some women have been asked why they didn’t speak out sooner. Quite often, they feared for their safety, their careers, and for the blame and condemnation that society would bestow upon them as insult on top of injury. Many, I think, can echo Gillian Flynn’s statement, “I feel humiliated and angry.” That’s how felt after a smaller event in 1967.

During my summer break at Syracuse University, I took the New York Central train from Syracuse to New York City’s Grand Central Station. I’d been at the midtown Manhattan station before, knew my way around, and understood that it’s best in big cities to walk with a sense of purpose rather than standing around like a greenhorn who doesn’t know where he is or where he’s going. I was headed for Europe for volunteer work and planned to have breakfast and then grab a cab to the National Council of Churches office on Riverside Drive.

When I got off the train with my suitcase, an African American man in his late 30s appeared, grabbed by suitcase, and said, “I’ll help you figure out where you are.” I assumed he was a thief or a tout from a nearby hotel. I’ve always had fast reflexes. Before he could take a step, I grabbed the suitcase handle. He didn’t remove his hand, choosing to continue the side-by-side contact of our hands and looked me in the eye in a way I didn’t like.

“What are you seeking?” he asked.

“Breakfast,” I said.

He let go of the suitcase, saying, “Follow me out on the street and I’ll point out a place with the second best eggs and bacon in the city.”

I was surprised when he simply pointed to a restaurant a half a block away and disappeared into the crowd.  The encounter seemed odd, but I put it out of my mind as I went inside the place–I no longer remember the name–and saw that it was typical New York, efficient, brusque, and carried the aroma of great food. I found a booth so I’d have a place to stash my suitcase, glanced at the menu for a nanosecond before a waitress appeared and said, “Yeah?” I have no idea what I ordered: bacon, eggs and hash browns, probably, because before the food arrived, the guy from the train station showed up, slid into my side of the booth like we were together, and asked what I’d ordered. When I told him, he said that wasn’t bad, but that he could fix me something better at his apartment a few blocks away.

Had my coffee arrived, I would have done a spit take and showered him with coffee.

“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“Because I want to make love to you?”

“My girl wouldn’t approve. I wouldn’t either.”

He laughed the way people laugh when they think they’ve heard a falsehood.

“Why didn’t this girl of yours meet your train?”

“She’s at work.”

“Where?”

“Riverside Drive.”

“High class girl. What’s she look like?”

The waitress set down my meal and fled the scene with a frown that gave me little confidence she’d kill the guy while I escaped out the backdoor.

“Catherine Deneuve,” I said, because I had a crush on the actress.

“Can’t compete with that,” he said, fetching a piece of bacon off my plate. He was sitting closer than necessary. In fact, there was no space between us and his arm was behind me on the back of the booth.

“Nobody can. Go find an easier mark at the train station.”

He acted like I’d plunged a knife into his heart, a thought that crossed my mind, and then we argued as I tried to eat my breakfast while he became a lawyer, so to speak, claiming that a guy like me couldn’t possibly have a girl who looked like Catherine Deneuve.

Finally, he said, “I say it’s because I’m black and have a bigger dick than you’ve ever seen in your life. You want to run but you don’t.”

“I have no interest in men.”

“Ever tried one?”

“I don’t need to try a collie dog to know that there’s no future for Lassie and me.”

He put his hand on my thigh. “You need it bad. Here you are in the big city with a fake girl friend on Riverside drive and no place to lie down. I bet you don’t even have a hotel reservation.”

“The Woodstock,” I said, mentioning a reasonable place that had apparently gone down hill since my family stayed there some ten years earlier.

He seemed surprised to hear the name of an actual hotel. “That dump? Don’t make me laugh.”

“Get your hand off me.”

“You want it there. I can see that.”

I shoved the remains of my breakfast away, caught the waitress’ eye, and handed her enough to cover the meal and the tip. When he didn’t leave the booth, I pushed him away, got my suitcase and left the restaurant. I went to the first cab in the queue and when the driver came out and put my suitcase in the trunk, he asked, “where we headed?”

“475 Riverside Drive,” I said.

There he was, hovering next to line of taxis. “I guess you weren’t shitting me about Riverside,” he said. “Your loss.”

I ignored him even though he was holding on to the frame of the open window. I felt like telling the driver something out of the movies, “We’re being followed. Can you do something about it?” But I just let him drive away at his own speed because I was already wondering what I could have possibly done to attract this guy in the first place and how I could have gotten rid of him sooner.

Well, he was soon going to be a world away from me and out of mind. I sailed for Europe on an Italian ship the following day, happy to see he hadn’t come aboard. The summer in Europe captured my thoughts, but he remained in the background as a  haunting specter whom I still wonder about from a day I felt humiliated and vulnerable.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Nobody cares: my SPAM queue is empty

Standard

When I log on, I normally see a WordPress notice that says there are 100000000000 messages in your SPAM queue. Basically, I think that if a spammer does such a poor job trying to comment on one of my posts that his/her comment ends up in the SPAM queue, s/he is sending substandard SPAM. But today, the queue was empty.

I felt so alone, discounted maybe. Perhaps spammers are boycotting my blog because they go in the SPAM queue where their efforts are all for nothing.

Here are some examples of the kinds of wonders I usually find in the queue:

  • I notice that you need some interesting posts in this blog. Get posts from our software and you’ll never write another one. (Hey clown, have you noticed that I’m a writer and can hardly call attention to my work by using canned posts?)
  • Date Russian babes. (My wife doesn’t allow me to date Russian babes.)
  • Try this safe and effective Viagra substitute for a stunning 15-hour erection. (If I go into the gigolo business and/or start dating multiple Russian babes, I’ll let you know. Don’t call me, I’ll call you–yeah, right.)
  • Our off-grid investment plan is so effective and private that only 10% of our clients end up in jail for money laundering. (I hope those clients weren’t using too much bleach.)
  • I’m going to bookmark this post so I can come back and read it again. (Please don’t.)
  • Free burial insurance without having to list preexisting conditions. Many of our clients have been dead for weeks before a well-meaning relative forges their signature on the application. We guarantee that only 10% of our clients wind up in the wrong grave yard. (Tempting, but no.)
  • We’re selling real SPAM at a discount. This week, 50% off “SPAM® with Portuguese Sausage Seasoning” that normally sells for $3.50. Free “Wood SPAM® Brand Piggy Cutting Board” with every thousand dollars you order. (Okay, you’re Hormel Foods trying a new marketing approach, right?)
  • Scientists have proven it’s now safe to brush your teeth with Saniflush if you don’t use it 100 times a day. We have a warehouse full of the stuff we snapped up when the brand was discontinued, and that means a deal for you. (No.)
  • New home security system test. Our pros will attempt to break into your house to see if your system works. If you don’t see us, your system failed. If you do, your system is effective. Send $1000 and your address along with the typical times of day when nobody’s home. (You guys work for SNL right?”)
  • Guard your Internet connection from fake news. Download our $56.00 virus and you’ll never see another phony news story again. (Will I see any more SPAM?)

If your comments ever end up in my SPAM queue, try again, you know, if you feel lucky.

–Malcolm

Malcolm is the author of the satirical crime novel “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” (Only 10% of his readers go nuts before getting to the end up this novel.)

Should our fiction focus more on why you should beware of those you love?

Standard

“Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you.” – Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

“You’re more likely to be hurt or killed by someone you know or love. And you’ll probably be at home when it happens.” – Mother Jones Magazine

“Over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence, with the vast majority of the victims dying at the hands of a current or former romantic partner” – The Atlantic

“Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.” – SPCC

As I look at articles written for and about writers and their work these days, the focus of late seems to be mirroring the political issues debated in the press, in Congress, in churches, and in social media.  I am seeing more essays, poems, and short stories by writers who–like everyone else–are trying to make sense of environmental problems, personal rights, racial issues, economic imbalances, health care priorities, terrorism, immigration, and religion as it impacts governmental policies.

Some writers write to figure stuff out: the resulting poem or short story might help readers figure stuff out. And if the writer is good, this can be done without making the poem or story sound like a political tract or a news release from a social service organization. It’s been said that many people learn more history from well-written historical novels than they do from the basic history courses they were required to take in high school and college? Why? The drama of the story catches their attention. The same can be said about fiction that focuses on the issues of the day.

For those of us who haven’t yet become immune to the horrors reported in the daily news, the quotes at the beginning of this post are shocking. The thing is, most news stories about family-related abuse and murder focus on one family or one person. So, while the numbers of the dead, dying, and traumatized continue to add up through the calendar year, nothing focuses our attention on them with high amount of impact of terrorist shootings such as 58 people killed and 546 injured at the Las Vegas Harvest music festival on October 1.

We lost our innocence a long time ago, those of us who–as children–believed that the world would be better off by the time we grew up than it has turned out to be. We believed in Superman and other heroes who would find ways to prevent every potential Las Vegas horror without infringing on our liberties. And we believed in the power of churches, laws, social service institutions, education, and the general evolution of society to end the abuse and murder of family members, especially women and children.

So here we are today, focused on terrorism–which we seriously do need to sanely address–while deaths and injuries of family members stack up like cord wood with fewer headlines to remind us that those we love are more likely to hurt us or kill us than a terrorist or some other thug on the streets. I’ve seen novels and poems about this, but not enough. It’s easier to find novels about fighting terrorism than fighting child and spousal abuse. I’m not surprised: after all, a government security contractor that isn’t bound by the rules governing police/FBI fighting a group that wants to blow up Washington, D. C. is more likely to be a bestseller than a novel about a woman who keeps calling the local police department with fears about what her husband might do.

We can do better, I think. We can look at family-oriented abuse and murder and–perhaps, first–join nonprofit groups that are fighting it and educating the public about it. But writers can take another step. They can experiment with themes and plots and characters and find compelling ways to tell stories about individuals who are–so to speak–living in hell next door while we focus on people caught up in the national news miles away. We need writers creating short stories, essays, memoirs, and poetry about this as a means of figuring out why it’s happening, and of reminding readers that it’s happening closer than they think.

–Malcolm

News: Free book and a new title

Standard

For your consideration when you’re looking for something to read:

  • Mountain Song is free on Kindle December 2 and 3: David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?
  • Quotation: “After a while, the characters I’m writing begin to feel real to me. That’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction.” – Alice Hoffman
  • A Shallow River of Mercy, a new title from Robert Hays, released December 1 by Thomas-Jacob PublishingErnst Kohl has spent nearly half his life in prison after being convicted of murder as a young man. Upon his release, with nowhere else to go, Kohl returns to his old family home on the outskirts of a small Michigan town, hoping for redemption, or at least understanding. He finds a dog, a girlfriend, and a job in quick succession, and it seems as if he might finally be able to leave the past behind and make a quiet life for himself. But some of the residents, including the town’s corrupt deputy sheriff, are less than thrilled to see him, and will stop at nothing to rid the town of its infamous resident. As events hurtle to an inevitable conclusion, Kohl is left to decide: At what point might a man break, and at what cost to himself? 
  • Thanksgiving: I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving or–if needed–survived the relatives. We enjoyed a nice visit with my brother and his wife who drove up from Florida, shared wine and food and a thousand-piece puzzle, and provided a lot of great conversation. The lights and wreath went up (not by themselves) on the front door today while inside we’re wrapping gifts to hand over to the post office, hopefully for delivery.

Malcolm

Walking off Thanksgiving dinner

Standard

According to statistics–which I don’t feel like looking up right now–Americans are generally heavier than they should be. And, we don’t get enough exercise (which is probably one reason we’re heavier than we should be).

I live in the country with an office on the front of the house, giving me a front row seat on the road where a lot of people walk, ride bikes, ride horses, and sometimes walk their dogs while they (the dog owners) ride horses while holding onto long leashes connected to the dogs. We have an old house sitting on the far end of the property and it still has a separate mailbox. I made a vow two years ago to walk down there to check the mail a couple of times a week. I’ve done that once or twice, preferring to use the riding mower to save time. It’s a good thing that vow wasn’t a formal resolution or a promise to Santa Claus.

My brother and his wife take walks several times a week. Fortunately, they do this in central Florida so that I don’t get trapped into participating in their bad habits. They walk (who knows where) away from the house for 25 minutes. Then they walk home for 25 more minutes. During that time I can eat an entire box of Kispy Kreme doughnuts. Trouble is, when they visit us for Thanksgiving, they continue this notorious walking hobby and want me to go with them. This past week, they walked four times, conning me into going on two of them.

Talk about tired. I suppose I could claim it was “a good tired” and that I should feel virtuous. On the the plus side, it (the walk) burnt off calories. According to my brother and this wife, calories are bad. I tried to point out to them (my brother and his wife) that I’ve been slowly losing weight for the past year using a mind control/positive thinking program that didn’t require walking along country roads where everyone’s dog barks at you and speeding pickup trucks almost knock people into the ditch.

We’re lucky to be alive.

They (my brother and his wife) set a fast pace. Even the trucks have to go into overdrive to get around us. If you’re paranoid while walking in the country, you’ll get worse because every cow and horse along the route is going to be staring at you. I’m not sure just why four, puny little humans should be a threat to an entire herd of heavy black Angus cattle, but all those eyes focus on us until we’re out of sight and out of mind. Those eyes watch us again on our way home. And the same dogs come racing out to the highway thinking, “WTF, I thought I chased those clowns away 25 minutes ago.”

One dog chased us for 15 minutes, disappearing into the woods again and again and then lunging out at new spots to take us by surprise. His owner was chasing him, ticked off–by the expression on her face–that we dared walk by her place and disturb the 200 dogs they have there keeping watch on things.

We had plenty of Thanksgiving food to eat along with some Scuppernong wine, but I’m in the clear because I walked it off. I’m seeing a lot of whining on Facebook from people who suddenly gained 25 pounds last Thursday afternoon. They’re on treadmills when they’re not heading off (in their cars) to the gym. Poor bastards.

–Malcolm

 

 

Linking Book Editions on Amazon’s Author Central

Standard

In case you’re not aware, Amazon’s Author Central is a FREE service. If you missed our very first tutorial on setting it up, see that HERE. If you haven’t already, read it. Do it. Then come right back here and I’ll show you how to merge your books. I heard that grumble. Yes, you need to merge your books. Here’s why.

via How to Link Book Editions on Amazon’s Author Central ‹ Indies Unlimited ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

Here’s a handy tip for using Author’s Central. If you’re an author and don’t have an Amazon author’s page, you’re missing a free opportunity for publicity. The page displays when a prospective reader clicks on your name on any of your book’s listings. The page not only shows readers all your books, but bio information and your latest blog post.

Naturally, as K. S. Brooks suggests, if you have multiple editions of a book, it helps to link them together on the page.

–Malcolm

Counting words and pages as you write is a real ‘who needs it’

Standard

“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” – John Steinbeck

Who knows, maybe counting words and pages helps you when you write. National Novel Writing month emphasizes speed, and that helps some people. Personally, I don’t like worrying about speed, the number of words I write in a day, or a “count down” of sorts about the number of words I have left to write before the story or novel is done.

So naturally, I’m going to start this post with the quote from Steinbeck. If he were alive and well and writing in 2017, I suppose he’d say the same thing even though novels have gotten shorter and many authors are more prolific than the famous people we studied in high school and college literature classes.

Years ago when I was in high school, English teachers would give us classroom assignments in which we had to write an essay or a story with a minimum word count during the one-hour class period. Most students cared more about getting past that minimum word count more than they cared about style and substance. How do I know? We’d all write for a while with pencils on lined paper and then, suddenly, the silence would be broken by people using their pencils to count how many words they had so far. Tap tap tap tap tap, followed by a sigh or a groan if their work so far was well short of what they needed or a pleased smile if they had more than enough words down on the page.

Teachers always complained about this because the resulting work wasn’t cohesive. Sometimes it read well for a while, but then faltered when the student realized after lots of pencil tapping that s/he was twenty five words short of the minimum. So, more words were added, and they seldom fit because they were tacked on after the student thought s/he was done.

Novels can easily sound like that if we watch word counts too closely when we write. Sure, we know that novels are expected to be a certain length: maybe your genre needs 60,000 words or maybe it needs 100,000 words to fit what publishers expect. So, ultimately, you’ll need to know your word final word count. But you don’t need to know it every day. Well, of course you know it because–if you’re writing in Word, for example–the word count is displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Personally, I usually have a sense about a story from the beginning even though I never outline or know how it’s going to end when I start out. That sense is this: is the story long enough for a novel, novella, or short story? That way, I just tell the story and the number of words written at any given moment really doesn’t matter. Again (personally), I don’t like writing advice that suggests that I should complete a specific number of words/pages per day. I tend to write scenes from start to finish because that’s how I view the story. That might not work for you.

I guess I prefer the natural approach. When you’re sitting around a dinner table or at a bar swapping yarns, you just say what you need to say without worrying–half way through it–how long it is. You tell it until it’s done. Or maybe you tell the most important part of it until you’re done with that. You’d probably get tongue tied if somebody had a computer at the table counting your words, one with a gong or a buzzer on it if you used too many or didn’t use enough.

The tellers of tales have a sense, I think, about how long they can talk. If people ask for a story about the time you were on a sinking ship, you know you can talk longer than you might talk if you were telling a joke. And, unlike the writer alone at his/her computer, you can see the expressions on people’s faces and sense whether you’re losing them or keeping them interested. But mainly, you tell the story.

That seems to me to be more important than finishing the novel in a month or dutifully basing one’s writing schedule on completing 1,000 words every day. However, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that outlines, schedules, and deadlines bother me and that I think they are harmful to the story you’re writing. If they work for you, keep using them!

I want to concentrate on the story as it unfolds because that’s what works for me.

Malcolm