Review: ‘Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare’

If you’re taking a dance class and its members find out you’re a writer and ask you to write a murder mystery about the class, what will you do? I happen to know author Pat Bertram has been taking a dance class or two or three and that her friends thought such a novel would be a real hoot.

That said, I’m surprised that Pat’s publisher didn’t put a disclaimer at the beginning of the novel that claimed “No dance class members were killed during the writing of this book.” But, Pat and her publisher Indigo Sea Press threw caution to the winds, so one wonders where the fiction begins and the truth ends–and vice versa.

The result is a very readable hoot.

When the students at a small town’s studio class find out that one of them is an author, they think it would be fun for her to write a novel about their classes in which one is killed and everybody else is a suspect. A superstitious person would know such games lead to real trouble; so would anyone who suspects the fates have a dark sense of humor. But they don’t stop to think about consequences. One of them even volunteers to be the victim. The rest of them talk about motives and murder methods.

But then somebody dies and the book thing is no longer a game. Suffice it to say, the cops are not amused by the book idea and think the writer is the killer. In this dandy mystery, everyone has a secret, a reason for covering it up, and a possible motive. The characters are well developed, the introspective protagonist wonders if she inadvertently set the stage for a murder by agreeing to write a murder mystery based on the dance class, and the cops tell her that in real life, most amateur sleuths and up dead or worse.

Readers who love mysteries will enjoy this book. Writers who write mysteries will consider being more careful when pretending to kill off their friends in a novel. And those who’ve been thinking of taking a dance class will see the story as a cautionary tale.

Pat (More Deaths Than One, Daughter I Am) has, with Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, written another compelling story.

Malcolm

 

Congress Imposes Word Limits on Members

Washington, D.C. January 19, 2018, Star-Gazer News Service–Angry about the looming government shutdown, Congress passed a wordy new law that imposed strict limits on the number of words Representatives and Senators are allowed to use each year.

Called the “Sit Down and Shut the Hell Up Law” by supporters, the bill restricts all members of Congress to 10,000 words per year, with 5,000-word bonuses for each co-sponsored bill that actually becomes a law instead of getting “bogged down in squabbling.”

“This is a results-oriented law,” said Senator John Doe (Whig-Florida), “because it forces people who are not popes to stop pontificating at taxpayer expense.”

According to informed sources, Congress passed the legislation in a snit over years of gridlock and now they’re stuck with it.

“Most Senators are playing a ‘mum’s the word’ game with reporters because the new law was unclear about which words count and which don’t count in the annual tallies,” said John Doe’s chief of staff Sally Doe since her words are not limited by the law.

A whitepaper released by Acme, a Washington, D. C. think tank that emerged after ten years of thoughtlessness, said that a longitudinal study of lawmakers’ words and deeds showed that most Senators and Representatives “obfuscated the issues by talking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time.”

“The general public is paying high salaries with lavish benefits packages to these clowns (AKA Senators and Representatives) to help govern the nation, not to talk about governing the nation,” said Acme CEO Bill Smith. “We will have a safer, more-effectively managed country by issuing sticks and stones to lawmakers rather than providing a forum for endless ‘pick a little, talk a little’ debate.”

Word-counts will be posted daily in the Congressional Record, including the sources of the words, that is, speeches on the floor, committee debates, quotes given to reporters, leaks of all kinds, and notes scribbled on bar napkins.

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

 

 

 

Starting your blog

“I love blogging and blogging has loved me back. I’ve been offered paid freelance writing gigs and paid speaking engagements because of my blogs and I’ve used the See Jane Write blog to grow a small women’s writing group into an award-winning business. A blog can also be a great way to build an audience for the book you want to write.

“Make 2018 the year you finally launch (or relaunch) your website and blog. Here’s a guide to get you started.”

via How to Start a Blog – See Jane Write

blogCLIPartFrom time to time, people see that I’ve been blogging for many years and ask me how to start a blog. Seriously, folks, I’m not the one to ask because I break too many of the rules and/or some aspects of blogging don’t interest me.

However, Javacia Harris Bowser does know how to blog and offers one of the best overviews about getting started. She begins with domain name and theme considerations and works her way through the steps to having consistent content. (I’m inconsistent, but I see that consistency is better for most bloggers.

If you’re serious about writing a blog, See Jane Write before you do anything else.

Malcolm

 

 

Writers write: that’s what we do

I don’t know whether writing is an addiction, a calling, or just one job out of the many we could have chosen. The down side to writing novels is that if one doesn’t become famous or sort of famous, there’s no money in it. I often wish I’d become a freelance writer with a lot of magazine and newspaper writing opportunities.

I’d be earning a living with my words even though it wouldn’t be James Patterson, Dan Brown or Nora Roberts kind of money. Since I write contemporary fantasy and magical realism, it’s a paradox that the money I did make from writing came from writing computer documentation and help files. I can be intensely logical when I want to, so my user manuals were always well thought of.

The thing is, being intensely logical isn’t the real me. In fact, though I often rely on it, I’m not a fan of logic because I think it gives us an inaccurate picture of the world. While I was working on my novel-in-progress today, I thought of all this.  I thought, “why do writers have to write” and “There must be another occupation that pays better.”

Like being a grave digger, maybe.

I thank the writing gods and the muses that I don’t want to write poetry. Good Lord, there’s a thankless task, more thankless than writing novels. I admire poetry, but really, I can’t write it and don’t ever buy books and magazines filled with it. I grieve for the poets.

But I also mourn the fact that writing novels is partly skill and craft and partly a popularity contest. If your name is James Patterson or John Grisham, you make money no matter what you do. Everyone else is ignored by reviewers and bookstores and don’t really want to tell friends they write novels because they’ll say they’ve never heard of them.

Early on, I wanted to work for the railroads. That would have been a much safer choice. I like trains, I really do. I was once a volunteer at a railway museum. Most of us there were jealous of the people who worked for Amtrak or the freight railroads. Whether they loved their jobs or not, they made a living wage. Writers don’t. But we keep writing because, in many ways, writing is not only a lot of fun, it’s a career we can’t do without.

So, maybe writing is an addiction.

But, it’s a fun addition once you realize there’s not going to be any money in it anymore than few of those who play little league baseball are going to end up playing for a major league team and being selected for the All Star Game.

If you’re an aspiring writer, I know this post doesn’t sound very encouraging. As Patti Smith acknowledged in M Train, writers are bums.  So, it’s best to know that’s the reality of the biz at the outset.

–Malcolm

 

Book Bits: Writing tip, the other ‘Fire and Fury,’ Frankenstein, Natasha Trethewey, Rae Paris

There’s so much writing advice on the Internet that I’m often cynical about it, viewing much of it as being like those bottles of patent medicine that used to be sold from the backs of wagons years ago. But sometimes I find something worthy passing along. (See item 1.)

  1. Writing Tip: How to Grow as a Writer, by Eva Deverell – “I firmly believe that as long as you’re willing to put in the work and play the long game, you can improve your writing – just like you can improve any other skill – and grow into a great writer. Here are some areas you might want to focus on…” Eva Deverell
  2. NewsAuthor Of The Other ‘Fire And Fury’ Book Says Business Is Booming, by Ari Shapiro and Kelley McEvers – “Hansen’s book is Fire And Fury: The Allied Bombing Of Germany 1942-1945. The beginning of that title “Fire and Fury” is the same as that of journalist and author Michael Wolff’s new exposé about the Trump administration, Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House.” (Suddenly, it’s selling well.) NPR
  3. EssayMan As God: ‘Frankenstein’ Turns 200, by Marcello Gleiser – “Perhaps Frankenstein’s 200th anniversary should be celebrated with a worldwide effort to build safeguards so that scientific research that attempts to create new life, or to modify existing life in fundamental ways, gets regulated and controlled. This includes CRISPR, a new technology capable of editing and modifying genomes. As with so many scientific developments, it has great promise and the potential for good and evil. At the most extreme, it offers the possibility of modifying the human species as a whole, a sort of final Frankenstein take over.” – NPR
  4. Wikipedia photo

    Interview: Natasha Trethewey: Say It, Say It Again, with Rob Weinert-Kendt – “Poet Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer-winning 2007 collection Native Guard, which partly memorialized an African-American Civil War soldier protecting a Union-captured fort on Ship Island, Miss., was first turned into a stage work in 2014 at the Alliance Theatre. It returns Jan. 13-Feb. 4. Trethewey was U.S. poet laureate from 2012 to 2014.” American Theater

  5. Quotation: “But to speak strictly as a writer, I wouldn’t be where I am if not for independent bookstores. My first book, Drown, stayed alive, and in turn kept my career alive, because independent booksellers continued to put the book in people’s hands long after everyone else had forgotten it. For 11 years, I had no other book and yet indie booksellers kept their faith in me. To them, I owe very much. I’ll definitely be in a lot of indie bookstores on this tour, as many as will have me.” – Junot Díaz in Shelf Awareness
  6. ReviewTHE ALICE NETWORK: The story of a spy, by Kate Quinn, reviewed by Matthew Jackson – “Historical fiction is all about blending the original with the familiar, about those delicate new stitches woven into the tapestry. The best practitioners of this often subtle art can sew those new threads without ever breaking the pattern, until the new and the old, the real and the fictional, are one and the same. With her latest novel, Kate Quinn announces herself as one of the best artists of the genre.” Book Page
  7. Essay: Has Ann Quin’s time come at last? by Jonathan Coe – “The experimental writer, who committed suicide aged 37, was disregarded in her lifetime. But her strange staccato style now seems quite in vogue.” The Spectator
  8. ReviewThe Forgetting Tree: A Rememory, by Rae Paris, Reviewed by Bruce Jacobs – avored with both vulnerable hesitation and uncompromising resolution, poet and essayist Rae Paris’s debut, The Forgetting Tree, is the memoir of a young black woman’s search to understand her personal and racial past. In a journey of backwards migration, Paris leaves her past in the Los Angeles streets south of Compton on a road trip into her family’s roots in New Orleans. From there she crisscrosses the South to uncover the raw truth of slavery, segregation and racism at former plantations, cemeteries, Klan meeting houses, civil rights battlegrounds, lynching trees and graves of both famous and unnamed black ancestors.”  Shelf Awareness

Book Bits is compiled randomly by author Malcolm R. Campbell

The time at the tone is: NOW

“If I write in the present yet digress, is that real time? Real time, I reasoned, cannot be divided into sections like numbers of the face of a clock. If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time. Perhaps there is no past or future, only the perpetual present that contains this trinity of memory.”

– Patti Smith in “M Train”

Writers are seldom in real time. We’re writing about yesterday or years ago and we’re writing about tomorrow and aeons into the future, creating time machines with words. If I’m sitting in a room in the purported here and now and you walk in and sit down in a vacant chair, you may soon observe that I’m not really there; I’ve gone deep into the past where time and space are so real that I can taste her breath in my mouth while noticing that the color of her lipstick matches the color of the dawn’s “sailor take warning sky.”

Patti Smith follows–figuratively speaking in her own time–the gurus who postulate an “eternal now.” Interesting, perhaps true, but that concept doesn’t help us get to work on time or remember when to feed the cats. Time used to be all mixed up before the railroads created time zones at high noon on November 8, 1883. Before that, time was a roll-your-own approximation of the sun, moon, stars and custom. But, you cannot run a railroad–other than the Polar Express–through roll your own or the eternal now.

As the New York Times said looking back at the date and time in 1983, “Some citizens grumbled about ‘railroad tyranny’ and tampering with ‘God’s time.’ The Mayor of Bangor, Me., deplored the change as an ‘attempt to change the immutable laws of God Almighty.’ The Indiana Sentinel lamented, ‘The sun is no longer boss of the job.'”

I’m reminded of the verse in Isaac Watts’s old hymn “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”:

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

That verse made quite an impression on me the first time I sang it in church. I felt small, awash in an almost-timeless universe, awash in the power of my own thoughts and words to take me away from the “now”–as defined by the railroads–into fluid moments so far away most people have forgotten them or not yet imagined them.

When a writer writes, the time is always now or, if not now, whatever we say it is. From time to time, I ask people, “Is it yesterday yet?” Nobody seems to know. They haven’t yet noticed that the right creative thought and/or the well written book will take them into yesterday with or without clocks and time zones.

I guess people notice the eternal now when they read and become lost in the story. Writers are always lost in the story, and I think that’s a blessing even though it plays hell with temporal appointments ruled by clocks.

1960 movie poster

When I read H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine, I thought what a wonderful invention that would be, this long before “Star Trek” invented the “temporal prime directive” stating that the people in our time couldn’t tamper with the people in another time.  Science fiction writers love playing with the notion that if a person simply strolls through the past, his/her presence there might change the world. What would happen to you if you accidentally killed your great great grandfather?

If there really is an eternal now, then the answer to that question is probably “nothing.” For years, writers have wondered if a time machine might make it possible to “go back” and save President Lincoln. Some say that, had he lived, reconstruction wouldn’t have become the hellish mess that it was. A character in Stephen King’s 11/22/63 figures out how to return to Dallas on the date in question and save President Kennedy. The world resulting from that was a horrible mess, darker than the dark ages. As it turns out, playing God is dangerous because we don’t know what God knows in the “evening gone” since Lincoln and Kennedy were shot.”

Yet, when we write, we are playing God. Sometimes I wonder if our play is confined to the pages of our novels. Perhaps our stories have impacts we can’t imagine and will never know. Best we can do is hope that our muses keep us on the straight and narrow so that we always write the right thing when the time is right.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels, a fact that shouldn’t surprise you after reading this post.

Where did I get the name for my previous blog?

In 2004, I self-published the first edition of my contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer. The second edition, from a small publisher, came out in 2010. When that edition went out of print, I self-published the current edition in 2015.

The story is about a young man named Robert Adams who travels to a look-alike version of Glacier National Park, Montana, where he finds a raging battle in progress between the evil king and a rebel group. While Robert has had some psychic skills for many years, he buried then as deep in his mind as possible because he stopped trusting them. Now, to survive the battles and find his way home to our world, he must rely on them once again.

The Sun Singer is a hero’s journey novel, that is to say, a story about a person who undertakes a journey and comes back from it forever changed. Oddly enough, I began dreaming about this story when I was in junior high school. On a visit to see my grandparents in Illinois, we visited Allerton Park, now owned by the University of Illinois, which serves as a convention center and nature preserve with a collection of outdoor statuary including The Sun Singer. It was almost as thought my seeing that statue created the connection to a story I was destined to write.

In some ways, I am the Sun Singer. Each of us is, when you consider the fact that our life’s journey seems to be intended to transform us into the very best we can be. With that in mind, it seemed fitting to name original blog “The Sun Singer’s Travels.” It was about the hero’s journey, my own journey through my published books, and–through its writing posts–the journeys each of us take when we write a novel or short story. A few months ago, I merged that blog into this one to reduce the amount of time it took to keep two blogs active and up to date.

The sequel to The Sun Singer, Sarabande, is a heroine’s journey novel in which a young woman comes from the look-alike world into our world to search for Robert Adams. She doesn’t have an easy time of it. Even though I’m no longer using the original blog name, I’m still focused on the same kinds of ideas and subject matter.

I’m very definitely a child of the new age, a long time student of magic, and a strong believer that each of us is much more powerful and complex than we appear. The challenge is finding out how and why that is so and then creating a world that mirrors our highest goals.

–Malcolm

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