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Wow, new followers

WordPress keeps sending me notices that more and more people are following this blog. That’s a little scary because it means I can’t slack off and write these posts drunk and blindfolded. Thank you!

While many of my posts do sound drunk and blindfolded, I also have fun reviewing a few books, talking about authors, and occasionally saying a few things about writing. Yet, I have madness in my method and that is something that I believe needs to be said. I say it in fiction. This Facebook cover picture pretty well sums it up:

 

My publisher is working on a new edition. She just sent me photographs of it this morning. Wow, for a grey and rainy day, they really make me happy. You’re going to like it. More on that later, of course.

Malcolm

 

Too many darned doctors’ appointments

Some authors can write while on a sinking ship or as bombs fall outside their windows. I’m not that kind of person.

No, things aren’t quite that bad–other than too much rain and grass too high to mow–but the things that are happening and are disruptive enough to make it difficult to write.

Sure, at my age (and my wife’s age) one should expect more doctors’ appointments. They fill up the calendar sometimes and often get scheduled on top of each other by offices that unilaterally select appointment times, send out an e-mail, and don’t worry about the fact their appointment conflicts with something already on the calendar.

Where one fears they’ll end up.

To some extent, many these appointments have to do with teeth that must be cleaned by a hygienist, old eyes that need prescriptions, and hearing problems that need magical hearing aids. Then there’s the usual sciatica and arthritis.

My wife was in several car wrecks (not her fault) some years ago, and the lack of compensation by the perpetrators’ insurance companies then leads to long term problems. The laws keep getting tighter, so that means more appointments so the doctor can say s/he saw us and can keep writing the same prescription one or the other of us has needed for years.

Several years ago, I had cancer surgery. It was a success. No chemo or radiation follow-up was needed. Today I learned that I might be facing something like that again. I’m pissed off about it because some test results last fall weren’t the best, but I was led to believe a wait-and-see approach was best. Now the test results are worse. So, that means more doctors’ appointments and worries.

I’m not a big fan of doctors, hospitals, regulations about the hoops one has to go through to get medications, and all that. I think “they” sense that my trust is always guarded. They think I should kowtow to them and I won’t do it. Yet, I wish I could hypnotize myself to move ahead normally until the next appointment without dwelling on all the possibilities that could occur after the new test results.

At least I could get some writing done rather than letting my imagination run wild about all the worst scenarios.

Malcolm

 

Seriously, a long title is nothing to be scared of

Several great titles come to mind:

Tom Wolfe’s 1965 collection of essays  The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby The story originally appeared in Esquire Magazine in 1963.

Gloria Sawai’s short story “The Day I Sat With Jesus on the Sun Deck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts” in her 2002 short story collection A Song for Nettie Johnson The story originally appeared in 1976.

Peter Weiss’ 2001 play “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.”

David Rakoff’s 2006 satire (with a bite) Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems.

Having said that, here’s a bit of shameless promotion from your sponsor (AKA, me)

My 2017 Kindle short story “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” has a long title. But it reads fast, is satirical (with a bite), and is based on Florida folklore about a magical sound called Diddy-Wah-Diddy. The place was hard to find, but if you did find it, you could eat all you wanted to eat.

My re-telling takes a lot of liberties with the original because, well, I felt like setting it in modern times and made it about a junk food junkie obsessed with finding the town and providing it is real.

I don’t advise looking for it, but if you happen to find it, let the rest of us know where it is.

Malcolm

 

Briefly Noted: ‘Le Mystère des Cathédrales’

With yesterday’s catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame of Paris, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo’s comment in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) that “The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”

Tourists, Catholics and other Christians, mystics of all faiths, architects, and especially the French nation have used many superlatives to describe the beauty and importance of this cathedral. And yet, the church is more than it seems. It is, as the pseudonymous author Fucanelli wrote in the original version of The Mystery of the Cathedrals, a veritable hermetic textbook in living stone to the alchemical process.

Most people probably view the hermetic symbols as the flourishes of Gothic architecture. However, for students of chemical or spiritual alchemy, the is much to learn from those symbols as well as from The Mystery of the Cathedrals (1926) and its sequel Dwellings of the Philosophers (1929). Modern-day students will find a great deal of help in the work of Carl Jung and others who view alchemy as more than trying to turn lead into gold but as a spiritual/psychological means of becoming wholly one’s divine self.

I have been studying this book since the 1971 English (U.K – Neville Spearman edition) came out and grasp only a fraction of it. As Wikipedia says of the two books, “The books are written in a cryptic and erudite manner, replete with Latin and Greek puns, alchemical symbolism, double entendres, and lectures on and in Argot and Cant, all of which serve to keep casual readers ignorant.”

From the Publisher (The cover shown here comes from a reprint edition.)

In 1926 the fabled alchemist Fulcanelli left his remarkable manuscript concerning the Hermetic Study of Gothic Cathedral Construction with a student. He then disappeared. The book decodes the symbology found upon and within the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe which have openly displayed the secrets of alchemy for 700 years.

From the Book

“The gothic cathedral, that sanctuary of Tradition, Science and Art, should not be regarded as a work dedicated solely to the glory of Christianity, but rather as a vast concretion of ideas, of tendencies, of popular beliefs; a perfect whole, to which we can refer without fear, whenever we would penetrate the religious, secular, philosophic or social thoughts of our ancestors.”

Amazon Reader Review

Wikipedia Photo of 2019 fire

Seminal work by the mysterious master French alchemist Fulcanelli. Companion to his other book “The Dwellings of the Philosophers.” The author explores in depth secrets contained within the Gothic cathedrals of France. He reveals a number of secrets, providing crucial clues into the occult work of the alchemists, contained in these massive repositories of knowledge preserved in stone. Warning: this is not a work for the uninitiated or those unfamiliar with alchemy. In order to understand this book, one must have at the very least knowledge of Gothic art and architecture as well as an understanding of the rudiments of alchemy. This is necessary in order for Fulcanelli’s work to make any sense to the reader. I would recommend Loius Charpentier’s “Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral” and Tobias Churton’s “The Golden Builders” to familiarize oneself with the subject matter before diving headlong into Fulcanelli’s masterpiece.

I agree with the reviewer’s suggestions about reading several other books first before attempting this one. Also, you’ll find an interesting commentary of Mysteries of the Cathedrals included in Jay Widner and Vincent Bridges book The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye” Alchemy and the End of Time.

In spite of the difficulties, Mysteries of the Cathedrals is time well spent.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Kylie Chan is creating Fiction | Patreon

Hi there! I’m Kylie Chan, an Australian writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction based on the Gold Coast.

My books are successful in my home country of Australia, and I’ve been shortlisted many times for awards in my country. Not so much overseas. This means that although I’m popular and well-known here, I don’t have the same sort of profile (and success) elsewhere. Australia has a small population (and book-buying market) so this dramatically affects my earnings.

I’m making enough to live on as a full-time writer: I’m not rich but I’m getting by. (I make much less than most people think I do. If I worked nine-to-five I’d be bringing in minimum wage. This isn’t really relevant, though, because 1. It’s a fourteen-hour-day and 2. I don’t really consider it work.)

Source: Kylie Chan is creating Fiction | Patreon

Students of literature and other arts know that in years gone by, many writers, composers, and artists had patrons. From time to time, I read of modern-day authors setting up subscription services and crowdfunding plans to help them raise money for their work. In addition to that, grants and awards help many authors complete work they’d otherwise be unable to do.

So, I support the concept and hope that Kylie Chan’s multi-tiered benefits for various levels of monthly subscriptions will help her travel for research and go to conventions for her promotional efforts.

I am currently on my second reading through her nine-volume Xuan Wu epic fantasy series (three linked trilogies) set in Hong Kong and its traditional celestial realms. It’s an enjoyable and ambitious work.

Many authors are not widely enough known to apply for grants and/or set up patron-style crowdfunding plans. Chan’s readers will note, of course, that she is published by Harper (not an easy thing to accomplish) so she is starting from a higher platform than small-press authors who find it next to impossible to even get their work reviewed by mainstream media outlets, much less have it considered by major competitions or best-of-the-year lists. Whether one goes Chan’s route with a major publisher or goes the self-published or small-press route, the odds of success for authors are more discouraging than going to Vegas and making a profit at the casinos.

I wish Chan well and I wish the media would expand its book coverage and actively consider saying something about authors who don’t have huge conglomerate publishers behind their work.

Malcolm

National Poetry Month: ‘Sharks in the Rivers’

If Ada Limón stopped writing poetry today–hard to imagine as that is–she would probably be remembered for Bright Dead Things and her most recent collection The Carrying. However, I want to mention her 2010 collection sharks in the rivers because–as with many singers, for example–a writer’s earlier words are often created and executed through raw, wild power that, in time, often becomes more polished as the years go by. I think this searching, magical volume will always stand out as a primal voice that time will always be trying to tame.

Review

In his review in The Brooklyn Rail, Jeffrey Cyphers Wright wrote,

“Rivers and sharks are grand metaphors in these ruminative soliloquies—as much about going with the flow as facing down your demons. Bravery and fear, like opposing eyes peering through the murk, inform Ada Limón’s vision. Not one to be obsessively reductive, minnows, angelfish, and barracudas round out “the City of Sharks” she navigates.

“Limón allegorizes other creatures as well: owls, sparrows, cormorants, and butterflies. ‘Every one of us with a bear inside.’ This penchant for mixed metaphors could be disastrous in a more rigid, less expansive treatment, but here it is compelling. Candor and artifice intertwine with (human) nature and Surrealism—think Sharon Olds (her teacher) dancing with Pablo Neruda.”

Publisher’s Description

“The speaker in this extraordinary collection finds herself multiply dislocated: from her childhood in California, from her family’s roots in Mexico, from a dying parent, from her prior self. The world is always in motion — both toward and away from us—and it is also full of risk: from sharks unexpectedly lurking beneath estuarial rivers to the dangers of New York City, where, as Limón reminds us, even rats find themselves trapped by the garbage cans they’ve crawled into. In such a world, how should one proceed? Throughout Sharks in the Rivers, Limón suggests that we must cleave to the world as it ‘keep[s] opening before us,’ for, if we pay attention, we can be one with its complex, ephemeral, and beautiful strangeness. Loss is perpetual, and each person’s mouth ‘is the same / mouth as everyone’s, all trying to say the same thing.’ For Limón, it’s the saying—individual and collective — that transforms each of us into ‘a wound overcome by wonder,’ that allows ‘the wind itself’ to be our ‘own wild whisper.'”

As you read these poems, you might not always be sure whether the lines are magical realism or metaphor. Or both. Or, just how the speaker has seemingly merged with that about which she speaks.

“I saw myself by the Rio Grande watching
a crane swoops down over the collection pond.

I was the fish in the drainage ditch,
you, the crane’s scissoring shadow.”

“Every one of us has a sparrow
underneath her tongue,
bouncing and burrowing.”

“(Sharks are listening right now, I’m sending out signals.)

I’m dreaming of them. I’m wrapping my arms
around their cold, gray, magnificent bodies.

We’re both sleeping
with our shark-eyes open”

The object (or critter) and the observer become one and the same.

Malcolm

Review: ‘Widely Scattered Ghosts’

Widely Scattered Ghosts begins with Moonlight and Ghosts: A couple visits an old abandoned mental hospital and development center at night, to quell some troubling dreams. This story draws you in quickly and kept me on tenterhooks until the very end. It had the right amount of tension to be spooky and just enough heart to leave a smile on my face.

Source: BigAl’s Books and Pals: Review: Widely Scattered Ghosts by Malcolm R. Campbell

I like this review, not just because the reviewer liked the book, but because she made a comment about each of the collection’s nine ghost stories.

If you’re not famous, it’s hard to find reviewers willing to consider short story collections. Those who do really earn their keep since they have multiple plots and characters to consider.

–Malcolm

Blogging, what’s it all about?

Writers are usually advised to have websites and blogs. There are lots of reasons even though blogs aren’t as popular as they were, say, back in the 1990s when the concept began. Blogs become, so say the experts, part of your platform or presence on the Internet.

Nonfiction

No, I don’t look anything like this clip art.

Not counting widely known writers, blogs seem almost mandatory for those writing nonfiction because they help establish subject-matter credibility. Such blogs have a built-in niche and tend to draw readers who are interested in beekeeping, home repair, investing, or whatever the author’s subject matter is. If the author is busy, s/he may have announcements of upcoming events related to that niche along with links to his/her articles along with resources links to sites and articles written by others. So the blog becomes another clearinghouse of information and (so the author hopes) will be a way of publicizing the books.

Fiction

Widely known fiction writers have a built-in audience of readers who are looking for them; they want to know the latest news about new books, presentations, panels, signings, etc. Unknown writers don’t have people looking for them. So, they are often told to blog about the subject-matter and locations of their books more than their books. If they write several posts a week about their books, that’s often considered SPAM. On the other hand, after maintaining this blog for a number of years filled with posts about Montana, Florida, mountains, swamps, hero’s journey, hoodoo, the environment and related subjects that relate to my novels, I can say that after a while, the writer runs out of book-related subject matter to talk about.

And, as far as I can see, there’s little correlation between those who read my posts about hoodoo, for example, and the sales of my books in which the main character is a conjure woman. Of course, most of the people who read this blog aren’t fans of hoodoo and related subjects, so I can’t establish a “hoodoo niche” and write about that all the time. But even if I did, I suspect that readers searching on hoodoo and conjure are looking for how-to more than fiction.

This brings me to the point that some writers make: blogging takes time away from writing the novels one is supposed to be writing. Yes, it does, and while I appreciate all of you who follow this blog greatly, I’m wondering if the blog is “earning its keep.”

Politics

J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and other well-known and wealthy writers can make political comments on Twitter all the time without harming their authors’ reputations. They may lose a few readers, but I’m sure they don’t care. I wrote a political post on this blog yesterday and deleted it today. Why? I guess I wish I hadn’t written it even though writers–among others–are being urged to speak out more and more about political matters. The thing is, politics has become so polarized these days, one can hardly say anything that doesn’t bring down the wrath of the multitudes. Suffice it to say, I’m a political moderate, yet the polarization in venues such as Facebook is so extreme that moderates get beat up by both conservatives and liberals. I don’t see a lot of real dialogue on Facebook. Just a lot of nastiness from people who wouldn’t dare say the things they say at a backyard barbecue or a bar or a party. I don’t think I want to bring that nastiness into this blog even though my political views are just as real as everyone else’s views.

So, What’s Left to Say?

My first thought is “not a lot.” I’ve been blogging for a long time on many platforms over the years. I’ve met a lot of cool people, found interesting discussions, been lured into exciting blogs of others, and had fun shooting off my mouth. But after 25 years of that, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here on WordPress. As people reach my age (I’m not telling you what it is) they often find they’re out of sync with the world. That is to say, it becomes more and more obvious with each passing year that they are part of the older generation which is variously considered to be: (a) responsible for what’s wrong with the world, (b) out of touch with the major thrusts of culture and popular culture, (c) trapped in the past.

The days are long gone when old people were venerated for their wisdom.  (Hell, my generation grew up with the admonition not to trust anyone over 30.) Not that I have any wisdom. When I was a kid, I thought I would know lots of stuff by the time I was a grandfather. Boy, was I fooled!

This is almost goodbye, I think.

Malcolm

 

‘Haints in the Woods’ excerpt

“Haints in the Woods” is one of nine short stories in my recently released collection Widely Scattered Ghosts. Here a brief excerpt featuring characters from my novel Lena:

Praise the good Lord, as the deacon would say, for Pollyanna chose that moment to drive her grey Ford truck through the busted section of the wrought iron fence into the back yard. She wore her favorite green capri pants, black blouse, black slingback sandals, and a wide smile that showed off her new black lipstick and matching nail polish.

“Young people,” whispered Eulalie.

Pollyanna came up to the porch with an Alligator Supreme orange crate chuck full of who knows what covered over in butcher paper.

“Did you see a soused sinner riding his hinny back home?” asked Eulalie.

“Why, is one missing?”

“I was just telling Lena that I think Willie’s sharing jelly and juice with some dusty butt miles away from where he’s supposed to be.”

Pollyanna set down the orange crate. “I don’t even know what that means.”

“Sex and booze with a ho,” Eulalie said.

“Holy shit.” Pollyanna slumped down into the sagging couch with a fading smile. When Eulalie handed her the Mason jar of shine, she wasn’t shy about drinking her fill.

“I ain’t really po’ moufin’ my brand-new husband,” said Eulalie. “I’m hopin’ he is a soused sinner today.”

“I know I’m repeating myself, but holy shit.”

“Beats bein’ among the dead. I threw the bones an hour ago, and they said he’s with the dead. Then Lena went lookin’ for him on a spirit journey, and she saw nothin’ but ace-of-spades blackness. As you white folks sometimes say, we’re on tenterhooks.”

Copyright © 2019 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Conjure Herbs: Master of the Woods

Wikipedia photo

Master of the Woods (Asperula ordorata) is a strongly scented, 12-20-inch long herbaceous perennial typically referred to as woodruff, sweet woodruff, and wild baby’s breath that is often used as a ground cover. Its four-petal white blooms appear between April and May. It has been used in perfumes, teas, and potpourris.

According to Sunlight Gardens, the semi-evergreen is easy to grow in shady, moderately moist areas, is resistant to deer and is “great with Bellwort, Gingers, Lenten Rose, and acid-loving shrubs.”

Medical Uses

According to Web MD, “sweet woodruff contains ingredients that can help decrease swelling (inflammation) and kill germs.” Other uses include circulation problems, restlessness, nerve pain, urinary disorders, and blood purification. Botanical.com notes that the plant has been used as a medicine since the middle ages; “The fresh leaves, bruised and applied to cuts and wounds, were said to have a healing effect, and formerly a strong decoction of the fresh herb was used as a cordial and stomachic. It is also said to be useful for removing biliary obstructions of the liver.” (Medical information is presented here more or less for historical or traditional background without warranty of any kind.)

Conjure Uses

You can buy herbal packets online at curio suppliers such as Lucky Mojo.

According to catherine yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic–the primary source I used when writing my conjure novels–Master of the Woods is a “commanding and ruling herb.” This implies that uses, in or out of mojo bags, will include strength, protection, control over enemies, personal energy, and even getting a job.

Mama Starr uses master of the woods, Jezebel root, calamus, loveage, and lavender boiled and steeped in water and placed in a spray bottle while ironing clothes along with a prayer and a petition that your target (a spouse, for example) will behave (whatever that might mean to you). You can also gain the upper hand over an opponent by sprinkling master of the woods in an area where that person will walk.

Auntyflo says that “the herb has very strong power in commanding, most people carry it along for to get protection from various harms, additionally, it helps the owner get out of any trouble they may encounter in their day to day activities. When combined with gravel root, it helps the job seeker get that job they have always desired. On the other hand, sprinkling the herb over the masters allows you commanding powers over them when they cross it.”

Like many herbs, master of the woods can be used alone or in combination oils, water, minerals, and other herbs to provide a root doctor or hoodoo practioner with mastery over situations as well as opposing forces, including enemies and situations.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and other novels.