Harlen Campbell

"A writer of fiction has just one obligation -- to entertain the reader.
Only if he has done that superbly can he deal with his personal concerns in a story."


     On Donna's birthday, Nov. 24th, 1997

          I dreamt, my dear. . .

I dreamt, my dear, before we met
Of you, and love, and time and how
Sweet life would be when once we met
And kisses fell like rain

But that was just a young man's dream
And I could never have dreamt of now
When miles have grown between us two,
Miles far colder than rain

Yet still, my sweet, I dream of you
An older man's dream of love and loss
Of arms once full and heart once light
And kisses much warmer than rain

Now night's become my comforter
It threads dark sleep with veins of gold
That lead me back to you, my heart,
And kisses more precious than rain

For night's the softest blanket, dear
A lender of dreams, dark tenders a dawn
When we may wake together again
And kisses will fall, like rain

November, 1997
         My screensaver scrolls memos to me across the monitor's face when I think too slowly and don't touch the keyboard for five minutes, memos that are sometimes short notes and sometimes slogans, or as close as I come to slogans. For a long time, several years ago, the screensaver proclaimed: "Fast food, sour wine, crowded beaches -- the rewards of mediocrity."
        Time passes and confidence wanes. Now it says, "You do what you've got to do to get what you've got to have." 

         Three months in Phoenix. What is it like? Beautiful. Hellish. A contradiction. Cheap water in the desert.
         I program computers for my living. At lunch, my colleagues rent automatic weapons and blow the hell out of paper men. Believe it or not, this makes sense.
October, 1997
         Have been living in Phoenix for two months now. The only way to get work was by moving, so I did what I had to do, but I do miss my family.
         And writing.
         For some reason, I can't write while working full time. I haven't even kept this site up to date, and that takes little enough effort. The worst of it is that the old life becomes like a dream, and it's hard to keep faith that dreams can be real.
         Read Paul Theroux's latest, My Secret History. A good book, well-written as all his are, but one can't help feeling a bit sorry for his character. Poor fellow; nothing between him and the hard African soil but a thin native woman. I know, I know, I stole that from someone, but it's a good line and deserved stealing. Besides, whoever said it is dead, can't sue me, and it points up what I felt was the biggest (only, really) flaw in the book -- the incidentals of the character's life obscured, rather than emphasized, his condition and it's causes.
April Fools Day
         Way too long since I've been here.
         Why? Well, writing, for one thing. Looking for a day job for another. Screwing around with paperwork for the IRS. (On the whole, I'd prefer it if they'd just send a couple of ugly guys with guns and a money bag around once a year and let me skip all the record-keeping. Add up all the time the IRS estimates is necessary to gather and maintain records and you've got over 40 hours -- an intolerable hidden tax on top of the dollars the government wants for the privilege of living and doing business within its borders.)
         TURK'S PLACE inches forward, but I'm afraid I need to start from the beginning with the book and ratchet up the tension. Other problems I see with the story, as it stands, are that the killer is a little too obvious and that the mystery, the 'what happened,' doesn't penetrate deeply enough into the heart of the characters, the 'why it happened' of the story. Very difficult balancing act.
         A few rejections have come in on The Game of Knights and Dragons. More will come, of course, but I really need to push the screenplay. It's a fun read and should make an exciting movie.
Valentines Day, '97

One season in the valley, Love
One turn around the garden
To sniff and smile, touch and

One Spring to
Taste the weeds, taste the flowers
Learn the which is which and
Which is good and

One Summer to
Find our paths find each other
Make two paths one way one
Summer to plant and hope

         (Ah, the planting!
           Oh, the hopes!)

'Til Autumn turns and
Winter burns
Wean to wither
Green to dust

         (Ah, my Heart!
           Oh, my Soul!)

One season in the valley, Friend
Just one to the customer but
In our season, in our valley,
We found each other
Clung and left
One flower
In the valley

January 28, '97
         A while ago, the editor who published a book then #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List was asked by a reporter, "You spent over $1,000,000 promoting it. Don't you think that money could have been better spent publishing literature?"
         The editor said, "No. That's not my job. My job is to print the books that sell."
         The reporter immediately backed down. The editor had appealed to the one irrefutable argument, the one argument that answers any criticism--profit. After all, businesses do business to make money, and publishers are businesses like any other, aren't they?
         Are they?
         I have a trilobite fossil on my desk, a brown stone in the precise shape of an animal that crawled the floor of a shallow sea some 415 million years ago in a place we now call Morrocco. It is stone, mud hardened to rock over the slow eons between me and the creature that gave it shape so long ago. The last vestige of tissue from the trilobite itself vanished hundreds of millions of years ago. It has been replaced by mineral, and nothing remains of the animal but pattern. The pattern has endured, and I pick up the fossil now and then, turn it between my fingers, and think about patterns.
         Patterns and Homer.
         I can pick up a book any time I want and read the Odyssey. Homer never touched the paper I'm touching, but his words, the pattern of his thought, have survived. His mind, in a sense, has survived. His body is gone, lost even more irretrievably than the body of my trilobite, but his thoughts still live on a million bookshelves around the world.
         In a way, they are fossils too, patterns that have endured for two and a half thousand years, and they are all I need of Homer. If he had been Egyptian rather than Greek, part of him might languish in a museum somewhere, but it really doesn't matter that he is gone any more than it matters that Shakespeare's bones still lie in an English tomb. The meaning of the men lies in their words, not in their dust. Odysseus, Macbeth, and all the rest carry the minds of their creators into the future as surely as its matrix of stone has carried my trilobite.
         And that is why the publisher of that nameless book, then #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List, was wrong. Publishing is not a business like any other. It is an enterprise charged with preserving the pattern of human thought, a pattern which is, in a very real sense, Mankind itself. Profit is important, but it is not the most important thing that publishers make. They make the future, and they should not forget it.
January 24, '97
         Okay. I'm a month late on posting TeleTale and haven't made much progress on TURK'S PLACE. On the upside, I finished the screenplay I started in November, The Game of Knights and Dragons, got it registered with WGA, survived Christmas, spent a week in Hawaii, got through my stepson's wedding (with 70 people in the house!), and shoveled a bunch of snow. Survived, in other words. Congrats to me on that....
         The slow pace of TURK'S PLACE bothers me. The book has the potential of being my best novel to date. It's hard to write, though. The early seventies weren't good years. All the echoes of Vietnam in the book make each page painful, even though it contains no action in the Republic.
November 24
         Las Vegas -- the city that made me rethink my position on mass murderers.
         Men gamble; women marry. Another striking example of the essential similarity of the sexes.
November 16
         Chauvinist (n.) A woman's term for a man who has put her on the wrong pedestal, i.e. the Untouchable-Virgin pedestal, when she wants to be on the Beautiful-But-Equal Earth-Mother pedestal or the Goddess-Whore pedestal.
         Ten pages of Turk done in the last week. A very poor showing.
November 11
         In one sense, I don't write these books. They write themselves, or maybe the characters write them. I just type the words. But of course that is true mostly of the first draft. Then come the revisions, the hard part. Kicking all the crap out of the story, the words, and I never get it all. The problem is that I don't always hear the characters, understand the story they are trying to tell.
         Make that stories. Each character has a different story and each stars in his/her own story. The book comes from the collision of their individual stories. If they were all telling the same story, there either wouldn't be a book or it would be so dull no one would want to read it.
         Forgetting that will screw up a book fast.
         Started chapter six of TURK'S PLACE today. Page 166, just under halfway through the first draft. I hope to finish the draft by the new year, but it's going slowly. Two and a half months on it so far. The problem is the 1970 sequence, finishing the murder and building toward Kent State. Hard years to relive. 'Nam and drugs. Sex and Rock and Roll. Too much desperation back then. Idealism and naivete, commitment and disenfranchisement. Too much of everything but peace.
         But maybe that's just me.

Copyright 1996, 1997 Harlen Campbell

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