A Frank Conversation With Mother Nature About the Rain

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Me: Baby Cakes, I want to talk about the rain. There’s been so much of it.

Mother Nature: Frank, what the hell are you saying? Malcolm is the only man on the planet allowed to call me “Baby Cakes.”

Me: My name isn’t “Frank.” I’m speaking frankly.

MN: I thought only Frank could speak frankly just as I’m the only one who can speak mother naturedly.

Me: English is a strange language.

More rain today

MN: Look, Toots–I hope it’s okay to call you “Toots” for old time’s sake–global warming is tangling up the planet’s cycles of heat and cold, rain and sun, and Coke vs. Pepsi.

Me: The rain, though, is keeping me from mowing the yard. Soon, the grass will be so high I’ll tear up the mower trying to cut it.

MN: Your writer friend Smoky wants you to get sheep to handle the grass cutting duties.

Me: Sheep, quite frankly, are just too sheepish.

MN: That sounds like something a guy named Frank would say.

Me: The thing is, sheep are more expensive than a lawn mower.

MN: That’s probably true. Nonetheless, I’m working hard to get the planet under control, and that’s not easy to do when–too put it frankly–so many people don’t mind p_ssing in their own pools and s_itting where they eat.

Me: Well said, Baby Cakes.

MN: What time do you get off work?

Me: I’m married. We can no longer meet behind the barn like we did when I was in college.

MN: Barns have changed since then, what with the hay being made a mess with pesticides and GMO tinkering. Maybe you can do something about that. Next time you update your blog, say something about the clowns who think climate change doesn’t exist, that fast food is really food, and that mayo should be slathered all over a hamburger.

Me: If I say something about climate change, will you give me a sunny afternoon and evening so I can mow the yard?

MN: Toots, I’m working on it. If only you weren’t married: we could make beautiful weather together.

Me: Aw, shucks, Baby Cakes, you’re making me cry.

MN: Me, too, and my tears are what you call rain.

Me: Oops.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s new short story is now live in Kindle, Kobo and iTunes.

 

Keeping up with Florida’s trees

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“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir

If you live in Florida, you probably already know that–other than Hawai’i–the state has more species of native trees than any other. My easy-to-use tree guide was published in 1956, so I can only consider it as a starting point since some of the nomenclature has changed since then.

Chinkapin Oak – Wikipedia photo

For example, the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) used to be mixed up with the Pin Oak and the Chestnut Oak. Confusing matters more is the fact that one of the popular names for a Chinkapin still is “Chestnut Oak” even though the Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) is another species. Both are in the white oak group. There are so many popular names for Florida’s trees, shrubs and flowers that it’s often difficult to be sure what another author is talking about, especially when names change from region to region. Many of those names figure into the state’s old stories.

I refer to trees a lot in my novels, so I’m constantly reading about them, looking them up, verifying habitats, and enjoying myths and legends about them. Florida has a lot of species because of its diverse habitats. That’s a lot to keep up with. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites available on line. When I first started writing, one had to call or send a letter to get the kind of information that can not be found with a few good Google search words.

There are 50 species of oak in the eastern U.S. and that means you’ll find a lot of them in Florida in addition to Tupelo, Cypress, Slash Pines, Longleaf Pines, and Palm trees if you know where to look. Longleaf pines are a sad story because the original forests covered so much of the southeastern U.S. (a 140,000-mile swath through nine states). Naturally, most were logged off and the land was converted to other uses or replanted with the faster-growing Slash Pines. Not the forest service and others are trying to re-educate landowners about the value of Longleaf Pines, especially their important wiregrass habitats that are sustained by fires that clear the unwanted and choking invasive shrubs and trees out of the forests. See the Longleaf Alliance’s page.

Florida Yew – Floridata Plant Encyclopedia photo

The Torreya (also called Gopher Wood) and the Florida Yew are endangered and may well disappear except in managed arboretums. That’s sad to see. Look for those still around on the Garden of Eden trail near Bristol in the Florida Panhandle.

According to exploresouthernhistory.com, Because the Torreya is one of America’s most endangered trees, a major effort is underway to save it. The Florida Park Service is working with the Atlanta Botanical Garden in a commendable effort to grow new Torreya trees. Using seed obtained from living trees, the agencies are growing seedlings that are being planted in the ravine habitat at Torreya State Park. Perhaps over time, the Torreya will once again thrive along the Apalachicola.”

Always nice to see people using native trees in their yards rather than stuff that really doesn’t belong there. (If you’re not sure and there’s no native nursery when you live, check this link and this link for names and pictures.)

In case you were going to ask: no, I don’t hug trees. Yet, I agree with Hermann Hesse, who wrote: “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”

–Malcolm

My upcoming e-book short story “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” obviously focuses on the dogwood (Cornus florida), not to be confused with the imported Jamaica Dogwood that’s often called the Florida Fishfiddletree or Florida Fishpoison Tree.

 

Happy Independence Day

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“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” – James Madison

“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” – Samuel Adams

“Independence is a heady draught, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.” – Maya Angelou

“The independence of the United States is not only more precious to ourselves but to the world than any single possession.” Henry Cabot Lodge

“The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states, and the organic laws of the territories all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights. Not one of them pretends to bestow rights.”  – Susan B. Anthony

Have a free July 4th.

–Malcolm

Teach your writing students not to follow the crowd

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“I have no doubt that writing can be taught—but here the burden of responsibility falls mostly on the teacher, not the writer. By this I mean that writing must be taught in a way that emphasizes discovery and growth of the student-writer’s voice, rather than emphasizing adaptation of a writer’s voice to a history of literature or to current trends in literature. I believe that this is the best way to foster originality and freshness in young and so-called ’emerging writers.’” – M.B. McLatchey

Writing programs are sometimes criticized for emphasizing the best of prevailing styles of storytelling so that students end up stuck in conformity, to turning out more or what’s already been turned out by the successful writers of the day. If so, then the teachers are basically saying, “Based on the evidence, this is what editors and publishers want now, so you need to supply it.”

When I was in school, my teachers emphasized the best of the past, the so-called canon of novels we were all supposed to read to become educated. Plus, those books purportedly showed us what we needed to do to become successful authors.

We need to read new stuff and old stuff because we want to be storytellers and for us little is more enjoyable than a good book. In reading, we discover what works and what doesn’t, for we are either pulled into the tales or we’re not. At this point, the students won’t need prescriptions from the teacher so much as a blank piece of paper and a wide open door.

The sky’s the limit out there. Go find it without charts and maps, outlines, lists of DOs and DON’Ts, or recipes for success based on either history or the trends of the day. Given a chance, the student will find his/her voice and style. When s/he returns to the classroom, we can talk about the results–is there a compelling story on the page or not? If so (or if not), we can lead the students into figuring out why there is or isn’t.

If the teacher says “this is why it works” or “this is why it doesn’t work,” then those pat answers begin to channel students down roads being used by the writers that teacher admires or dislikes. When the student sees (without being led) why his/her stories are working, then s/he is ready to emerge from the classroom with the capability of telling unique stories and organic styles that belong to them alone.

–Malcolm

 

En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom

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Coming soon from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, a new Kindle short story in the Stories from Tate’s Hell series.

Background of the Story

Diddy-Wah-Diddy is, perhaps, the best known of Florida’s mythical places. The original story about a hidden-away town with unlimited food was among the folk tales collected by Zora Neale Hurston while working with the Federal Writers Project in 1938. Hurston wrote that Diddy-Wah-Diddy was “reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagonload of fodder can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.”

Bo Diddley further popularized the legendary town in his song “Diddy Wah diddy” recorded for Checker Records in 1955. You can find an unadorned re-telling of the original folktale in Kristin G. Congdon’s Uncle Monday and other Florida Tales. “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” is a re-imagining of the town in modern times.

Description

Every spring, fast food junkie Peter Martin packs his wife, Mary, and son, John, into his SUV and crisscrosses the back country of the Florida Panhandle searching for Diddy-Wah-Diddy, a legendary town offering travelers all the free food they can eat. Mary thinks they’ll never find it. John draws maps to show where they’ve been in years past. John has more hunches than fleas on a hound dog about the town’s location. More often than not, they get lost.

This year, they find Diddy-Wah-Diddy. It’s better than they expected. They begin to eat more than they should. Then Peter has a horrifying accident and disappears. While the powers that be treat Peter’s fall from grace as business as usual, Mary and John wait for him, and while they wait they keeping eating all they can eat.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” both of which are magical realism enmeshed in Florida’s folklore and racial injustice.

 

Mom, why would anybody buy unsanitary napkins?

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When I was in junior high school, I saw an ad in one of Mother’s women’s magazines for Kotex and was curious why ads for sanitary napkins always showed young women out playing sports instead of sitting around the dinner table.

Mother was washing pans in the sink when I walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom, why would anybody ever buy an unsanitary napkin?” She dropped the pan, turned around as white as a ghost and shouted “What?”

“I saw a Kotex ad for sanitary napkins and wondered if they thought other brands were unsanitary.”

“These are special napkins for women,” she said.

“Is that what y’all use when you go to a tea or have cakes while playing bridge?”

Mom was swaying a bit, possibly remembering it was just a week earlier when I asked her what the word “shit” meant. I learned that she apparently didn’t know but that it was a curse word we didn’t use in our family.

“Absolutely not.”

“They’re for rich people, then?”

“Rich and poor, I’d say.”

“Does grandma use them?”

“Listen, under no circumstances are you to ask your grandmother about sanitary napkins,” she snapped.

“So, saying sanitary napkin is sort of like saying “shit”?

“If you treat the words that way, I will be eternally grateful. Suffice it say, sanitary napkins are especially packaged like Band-Aids so that folks will know they’re germ free.”

“The ad said they’re fail proof. Is that what you need if you’re really messy and keep spilling gravy on the table cloth?”

Mother sat down and put her head in her hands, inadvertently putting her elbows in a spot of grease that hadn’t been wiped off the table yet.

“Now, look what I’ve done to my best blouse.”

“If there are any Kotex in the pantry, I can bring you one and we’ll see just how good they are.”

“No, but thanks for asking,” she said with an unexpected trace of a smile. “Now go do your homework and don’t use the words ‘sanitary napkin” in front of your father or brothers.”

“It’s like shit, right, but a more powerful curse?”

“Someday you’ll be a father and when one of your sons asks you what the words ‘sanitary napkin’ mean, I hope you’ll remember this conversation and what you put me through.”

“I will, Mom,” I said, realizing that I felt less informed after asking the question.

 

 

How often do you re-read your old books?

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  1. Never because I don’t know where they are.
  2. Once in a while whenever I can get them away from the dog.
  3. Whenever I find then hidden at the houses of friends who “borrowed” them.
  4. Are you crazy, who has time to re-read old books when so many new books are published?
  5. Whenever my stack of new books runs out and the next Amazon shipment is days away.

My answer to this hastily thrown together set of questions is #5. When I read a great book the first time, I think, “I’ll remember all of this forever.” When I re-read it ten or twenty years later, I’m amazed at how much I’d forgotten.

Biltmore House Library

Returning to a favorite book is like having a new conversation with an old friend. I don’t re-read books as often as literature professors because many of them read books again every time they teach them in a course. While some literary criticism is interesting, I seldom read it, even when it focuses on the books on my selves I like the best. I don’t like being skewed away from my impressions of a book over time by reading what others have said them.

My favorite room at Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore House is the library. My library wouldn’t look this good because I buy mostly paperbacks. They don’t wear as well or look as nice on shelves that climb all the way to the ceiling. As it turns out, some of my paperbacks are so old that the pages fall out when I read them. Suffice it to say “Perfect Binding” (the style used for most paperbacks) isn’t perfect. The glue deteriorates over time.

I’ve probably re-read this series of novels more often than any other. Fortunately, my copy isn’t as beaten up as this old edition on Amazon.

I doubt that any of my old books are worth a lot of money, so you won’t see my name attached to a newsworthy sale of a book at a famous auction house. In addition to the favorites I’ve owned for years, the most dear are those that were once owned by my parents or grandparents. They speak to other times and other places, but re-reading them occasionally is almost like a psychic experience because my imagination tells me what my relatives thought and felt when they once read the words I’m seeing years later.

Every time I re-read a book, I discover something new about the story or about me. Sometimes I remember where I was when I first read it. Sometimes I’m disappointed because I no longer like the story and I see that I’ve changed from the person I was when I thought it was the best thing I read “that year.” However, the books I turn to again and again are always a special pleasure because through luck or magic or the author’s skill, they have kept their excitement, sense and relevance.

Perhaps some of you have found some of the same things to be true whenever you took an old book off a shelf and enjoyed it again.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Mountain Song,” and “At Sea” in addition to numerous Kindle short stories.