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Posts by Malcolm R. Campbell

Sunday’s this, that, and another thing

The hormone therapy that precedes that forty days of radiation treatments for my little cancer problem is expensive (thank goodness for medicare) and as I look at the side effects of each medication they give me, it’s like spinning the wheel of fortune and/or fate trying to guess which annoying effect will affect me. When the nurse asked me Friday, if I was depressed about the cancer, I said, “No, just aggravated.”

Some books, such as those by James Patterson, I read to get away from it all, including nurses who ask if I’m depressed. Others–usually fantasy or magical realism–I read because they really are my cup of tea. One way or another, they not only hold my interest but are inspiring. The latest was Gwendolyn Womack’s The Fortune Teller. I’ve had it around for a while, so I finally decided to re-read it and found it just as interesting the second time through.

About the time I’d recovered from my 6-8 wasp stings and my wife had recovered from her 23 bumblebee stings, the rains came. So, the yard was already out of control and now it’s been too wet to mow for the last week. At least the thunderstorms created a break from the heatwave; I noticed on the weather channel that the temperatures in Maryland where my daughter and her family live were higher than ours here in Georgia.

Coming Soon

My publisher Thomas-Jacob uploaded the trailer to my upcoming novel Special Investigative Reporter to YouTube today. So, that tells you the release date is fast approaching. You can see the trailer here. Since I recently re-acquired my rights to the book from its original publisher (under another title some years ago), this seemed like a good time to come out with a brand new edition with cool cover art. Completely different from the magical realism of my Florida Folk Magic Series, this novel is a mystery/thriller/satire.

I liked the AudioFile review of Holly Palance’s narration of the audiobook edition of Lena. Strange to see, the audio edition has more reviews on Audible than the paperback/e-book have on Amazon. The ratings are pretty good, too.

I’m sure many of those running for President in 2020 read this blog, so I’ll send them a group message here: daily e-mails that say “Malcolm, we really need you to chip in before midnight to support our campaign” are really starting to tick me off. Each e-mail reduces the likelihood you’ll get my vote. You’ve been warned.

My novel Mountain Song will be free on Kindle from July 22 through July 26. Set in Montana and Florida, the novel is somewhat based on my experiences in Glacier National Park. The sequel, At Sea, is also available on Kindle and is somewhat based on Vietnam War experiences aboard an aircraft carrier stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’re aware of my family’s Scots ancestry. My brother and his wife are planning a trip to Scotland in August and invited us along. We thought about that for a long time, but finally said we didn’t think we’d be able to handle the scheduling. I hate missing the trip, but I’m glad the force was with us when we said: “we better not do it.” Had we said yes, the cancer radiation treatments that begin August 1 would have made it impossible to go. Quite likely, some expensive plane tickets would have been cancelled. Ifrinn fhuilteach as we say in Gàidhlig (Scots Gaelic).

Malcolm

 

 

 

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Review: ‘Trust Me’ by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Trust MeTrust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author Hank Ryan brings a resume of honors and awards for her work as a reporter and a novelist, and that alone promises that Trust Me will be a chilling mystery/thriller. And it is. The plot is complex, the characters are interesting (and occasionally flawed), and the story is compelling.

In a storyline reminiscent of the 2011 Casey Marie Anthony case in Florida and the 2017 Rachelle Bond case in Massachusetts, Ashlyn Bryant has been arrested for killing her young daughter, putting the body in a garbage bag, and dumping her in Boston Harbor. Journalist Mercer Hennessey, who is still grieving the recent deaths of her husband and daughter in a car accident, agrees with a colleague’s proposal to write a book about the trial partly as a way of getting herself on her feet again and partly because the public’s interest in the case might turn the book into a bestseller.

Like the majority of people following the case, Mercer believes Ashland is guilty but still thinks that through her research and her live TV feed from the courtroom, she can write an objective story. As she follows the story, Mercer is greatly conflicted about the death of her own daughter and any possibility Ashland could be found innocent.

The first major plot twist comes 180 pages into this 459-page novel when the verdict is announced, one that I won’t reveal here. Readers might wonder, what’s the author going to do with the rest of the book. The answer is somewhat malicious, in a well-written mystery/thriller kind of way. Through a rather unusual arrangement, Mercer is given access to Ashland so she can get more of the defendant’s personal story for the book.

Here is where the heavy psychological machinations begin. Mercer dispises Ashland and Ashland distrusts Mercer. Both have strong reasons for their feelings. By the time readers are nearing the end of the book, Mercer has grown to distrust everybody, including the colleague who got her the book contract, her late husband, another reporter on the case, and (of course) Ashland. She believes she’s being followed, that her life and Ashland’s lives are in danger, and that constructing a reasonable book is now the least of her problems. Trust Me is a very dark book, and the truth is flexible.

The second major plot twist occurs when Mercer decides the only way out of the deception and doubt is by turning the tables on one of those whom she thinks has been lying to her. Readers know she has something mind because she discusses the case with people she hasn’t talked with before and as that scene ends, she says “Here’s what I’m thinking.” But the reader isn’t a party to what that is. Two chapters later, the plot twist occurs. While it’s satisfactory, as is the novel’s conclusion, this plot twist involves an authorial trick.

We have been inside Mercer’s head for an entire book. We know what she worries about and that she plans to do next. Then, suddenly, a veil is thrown over her thoughts and in the pages leading up to the plot twist, she isn’t thinking about how to make it work, how to set it up, and how to keep it secret. In real life, Mercer would be fretting and pondering the details. As the book has been written up to this point, she would also be going over the details in her mind. But, we’re suddenly cut off from her thoughts in order for the surprise to be a surprise.

This is a point-of-view trick and it’s disappointing to see it used here when, quite likely, the plot twist would have been more harrowing if we’d known what it was and what Mercer was concerned about. While I knocked down the number of stars for this authorial trickery and for the repetitiveness of many of the conversations between Mercer and Ashland, I still see the book as an interesting read in spite of its flaws.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

Researchers to look for more graves at Florida reform school

University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle will be back at the former Dozier School for Boys on Monday, the same place where she spent four years researching and unearthing the remains of boys buried on the massive 1,400-acre site in Marianna, located about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Tallahassee.

Source: Researchers to look for more graves at Florida reform school

I first posted about this subject in Briefly Noted: ‘The White House Boys’ and ‘The Boys in the Dark’ in 2012. The post saw a lot of visitors at the time because the story was big news for a while. Since then, I’ve added numerous updates to the end of the post in chronological order.

I was struck by the synchronicity of events about Dozier school as researchers return to investigate more prospective graves at the time Colson Whitehead’s new novel, based on that school, The Nickel Boys is released.

That school hung like a spectre over our high school in Tallahassee because it was touted as the ultimate punishment for disobeying school rules. I think I knew people who were sent there, but I’ve never been able to verify it. The reason the school scared people had nothing to do with the later revelations about it, but by the fact it was an overkill solution for seemingly minor infractions.

Years ago, parents and other authorities used various folklore stories about goblins and gremlins to keep kids in line. We were threatened with, “If you’re bad, they’ll send to Marianna.” That threat was worse than saying we’d go to hell.

Malcolm

Rain, Wimbledon, and other sorrows.

When I was a kid, I hated rainy Friday nights because they usually ended up lasting throughout the weekend and then ending just in time for school Monday morning.

Sure, the yard needs to be mowed, but the rain is more than welcome. The smaller trees have had a bad summer. And, there’s something about rain that shields us from the world’s slings and arrows. That is, it’s cozy staying in the house when the rain has taken over the fields on all sides. The horse and bull across the road are seemingly oblivious to the rain and the cattle I can see out past the back yard don’t seem to notice it either.

While rain usually improves my mood, I’m still not ready to talk about the Williams/Halep Wimbledon final. Serena’s game was lackluster, especially her serve, and Halep had enough speed to return a lot of shots that many other opponents could never have gotten to. But, I’ll admit that Halep played a fine game.

Coming Soon

My publisher and I are still getting rid of the formatting errors that occurred when the PDF manuscript for Special Investigative Reporter was converted into a DOCX file. This is delaying the release date. Meanwhile, I’m happy to see that Conjure Woman’s Cat and Lena are getting a lot of positive reviews on Audible.  Oddly enough, there are more reviews of Audible than Amazon.

I do plan to return to the Florida Panhandle world of my Florida Folk Magic Series once Special Investigative Reporter is released. I needed a change of pace. And I needed something completely different.  There’s definitely more to say about North Florida and the KKK in the 1950s. My Pollyanna character has a very different approach to the Klan than the main characters in the folk magic series. So, I look forward to exploring that.

My wife is still fighting off those twenty-three bee stings that happened when she mowed through a hidden nest in high grass. The ER helped a lot. But now, there’s a lot of itching to contend with. And, it’s odd that “new stings” keep appearing on her arms and hands that didn’t initially show up.  We keep thinking that some of the bees did a half-assed job of stinging her at the time and now are just showing up.

My radiation treatment for cancer begins on August 1, just in time for my birthday. It will be a daily thing, excluding weekends. and will last about forty days. That seems really tedious and is supposed to make me tired. I’ll be glad to get all that out of the way and emerge cancer free. If all goes as planned, this will be my second time as a cancer survivor.  At my age, I guess one has to expect all kinds of problems like this.

I hope you’re having a great weekend, rain or shine.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your 100 Fan Club 

“Simply your writing. Write the stories that you think your top 100 will love. Don’t have 100? If you keep making an appearance in person, on social media, in writing guest posts on blogs, that 100 will materialize. If you keep writing and quit banking on one book. If you keep reminding the few you have in a newsletter who you are (avoiding saying BUY MY BOOK), that 100 will happen.”

Source: Your 100 Fan Club | | FundsforWriters

All sorts of people ask writers about their target audiences. I suppose if you write in a genre, that helps define your prospective audience. Or, if you write folk tales set in a defined region of the country, then you might hope the people who live there are part of your target audience. But if you look at demographics, checking to see how many readers like your genre and how many people live where your stories are set, the numbers are quite large.

When we invite people over to dinner, whether a barbecue or a sit-down affair in the dining room, we often struggle trying to make sure we have a compatible group. You might like the Smiths and the Johnsons, but they don’t like each other. So, you decide you won’t try to please them both and avoid inviting them over on the same night.

I see Hope Clark’s top 100 readers as a solution to the struggles we go through trying to please everyone who might read our genre or live in the states where we set our stories. Since those 100 people interact with us in the social media, read and talk about our books, and sometimes post a review to Amazon or GoodReads, when we please them, we are doing the best we can do.

By that I mean, if a group of people waits for your stories, that’s the audience you know and trust. If they think you’re doing a good job, then chances are you’re at the top of your game whether you outsell James Patterson or Jo Rowling. It’s hard to figure out what a million readers might want. But a hundred? Now we have a goal that’s less stressful and more manageable.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena,” a magical realism novel set in Florida that’s published by Thomas-Jacob Publishing in paperback, e-book, audiobook, and hardback editions. The well-reviewed audiobook is narrated by Holly Palance, Jack Palance’s daughter.

Let’s ban how-to webinars for writers

No, I don’t really want to ban anything.

However, I think many webinars crafted for aspiring and emerging writers are taking a lot of our money for very little information.

  • How much does the webinar cost? $150. $250. $500? That seems to me to be a rip off from the outset inasmuch as those producing the webinar could sell the same number of tips in a paperback book or even a downloadable PDF for a lot less.
  • When you look at the number of facts in a webinar, you’ll quickly see that the number of words is very low when contrasted to, say, a pamphlet about the same material. Writers don’t earn a lot of money, so I wonder why we are being gouged with high prices.
  • Most webinars are not closed-captioned. So, if you’re hard of hearing–and if no transcript is offered–you’re paying for a presentation you cannot hear. That is to say, it’s worthless.
  • Webinars are linear. That is, they’re like a tape recording. You have to listen from beginning to end. That means you’re forced to hear the information you already know. Unlike feature films on CD, webinars usually don’t include a table of contents or any other way to access specific parts for the information you want.
  • When webinars include guests or panels, a lot of the introductory minutes are used up with that we used to call happy news chatter. That is, the participants introduce themselves, talk about each other’s work, and spend a lot of time (and your money) saying how nice it is to see each other.
  • If the information in a webinar we produced in print (or PDF) in a magazine format with subheads, you could quickly go to the information you don’t already know. That is, your eyes could see the entire presentation’s format in a fraction of the time it takes to laboriously listen/view the whole thing from beginning to end.
  • One thing many webinars don’t acknowledge is that some promotion techniques lend themselves more to nonfiction than fiction. So, they present promotion as an outgrowth of one’s business. This doesn’t work for fiction writers. Don’t get rooked into spending on a webinar focused on business owners who write books about their businesses when you’re looking for help with a novel.
  • Like many written presentations, webinars often spend a lot of time rehashing what aspiring writers already know. If the production included a table of contents, you could see how much of it was new and how much was old before you spent your money.

Frankly, I don’t understand the popularity of webinars. Other than the fact they cost a lot more money than the same facts in printed form, most of us can read faster than we can listen. We can scan a page of type in seconds, but a webinar moves along (relatively speaking) at a snail’s pace.

The advertising for webinars typically suggests that when you pay to listen/view, you’re going to see and hear secrets that are only known to those who created the webinar. Seriously, what a joke. Do you really want to believe some author you’ve never heard of when s/he says his/her webinar will turn your book into a bestseller? Let’s not be naive.

Malcolm

How honest should a writer be?

A relatively well-known writer on my Facebook friends list shares a daily journal-style entry about her writing life. It includes new books accepted, poems written, meetings with publishers, and rejections received.

When I first noticed her mention of rejections, I wondered how somebody so widely known ever received rejections. The fact that she acknowledges this, gives hope for the rest of us. On the other hand, the gurus of writing and promotion tell us to always be positive. That is, we’re told not to mention projects that fail, manuscripts that are rejected, or problems with publishers or publicity plans. Negatives in any of these areas are said to turn off prospective readers.

The author I’m referring to has more books than I can count in print and a very wide following. So, she can break the guru’s rule. Plus, she’s never nasty about things that don’t work out. That’s a plus, I think.

I wonder how often famous writers send off a manuscript via their agents and get a “sorry, not our cup of tea” response. If they do, we never hear about it. I suppose the gurus would say that if we did hear about it, it would sound more like a failure than an honest look at how the writing business works.

Authors have work-day problems like everybody else, but if we mention them, we’re accused of having a sour grapes attitude. Professionals are expected to move on to the next project and not worry (much less rant) about the projects that don’t come together. I guess I can see that. Yet, I still respect my widely known Facebook friend who reports both rejections and acceptances.

I hoped to get a short story into the last issue of Glimmer Train, a well-respected fiction magazine that is ceasing publication at the end of this year. No dice. They didn’t like it. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps I should have spent more time with the story or placed a different focus on it. One never knows. Author’s usually don’t get a critique when a magazine doesn’t like a submission.

Those rejections are practice, though. I dislike sites that provide writing prompts because I see no reason to write a story that is simply practice. If I write it, I want to spend enough time on it to make it worth submitting. Sometimes these stories don’t sell. But, I’ve been told not to speak about it because (supposedly) it chips away at my platform as a writer. Is this good or bad? I really don’t know. When I think of bestselling authors, I know that most of them don’t have blogs that discuss the books they submitted that the publisher rejected. So, maybe the rest of us shouldn’t dwell on that either.

How often do you see a headline such as LATEST JAMES PATTERSON NOVEL REJECTED BY GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING? You never see those kinds of headlines. Does this mean everything Patterson submits is accepted? I don’t have a clue.

So, as aspiring, emerging, and small-press authors, we’re told to be positive every step of the way. If we’re not, we’re told we’ll look like amateurs or writers not worthy of a second look by prospective readers. Do you see authors this way? Must we be perfect or ignored? There’s so much competition out there, most of us feel a lot of pressure to appear perfect even though we know we’re far from it.

The gurus tell us we don’t have the luxury of telling the truth about the business of writing. Well, I don’t care. Who you know is more important than how well you write. That’s where it’s at because publishing is seldom fair.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Friedman’s new ‘Key Book Publishing Paths’

Since 2013, I have been annually updating this informational chart about the key book publishing paths. It is available as a PDF download—ideal for photocopying and distributing for workshops and classrooms—plus the full text is also below One of the biggest questions I hear from authors today: Should I traditionally publish or self-publish? This is an increasingly complicated question to answer.

Source: The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2019-2020 by Jane Friedman

I’ve been reading Jame Friedman’s blogs for a long time. She knows her stuff. The explains it clearly. And it’s always on point when applied to the kinds of questions and concerns aspiring and emerging writers have about the business.

There seems to be a misconception that one either has to self publish or try to first his or her way into a conglomerate publisher like HarperCollins. This post explains that there are a lot of choices in between those options.

–Malcolm

Review: ‘The President is Missing by Clinton and Patterson

The President Is MissingThe President Is Missing by Bill Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those of us who write novels would probably sell out our own grandmothers to collaborate with a former popular President of the United States. The good news is this: the book delivers.

I found myself thinking about the mechanics of collaboration. Did Clinton approach Patterson or did Patterson approach, Clinton? Who wrote what? Who thought of the plot? We may never know. But the plot and presentation succeed because they focus on cyber-warfare or cyber-terrorism, both of which seem to be a real threat these days. That’s the strength of the story: it focuses on a fear many of us have.

The President of the book is believable. (I would hope so.) He’s facing prospective impeachment, something the country lives with every day. He takes risks that make sense to the reader even before we know the extent of the danger. What more could one ask of a chief executive?

We have an unusual mix here: prospective terrorists offering to help the U.S. A potential traitor in the administration’s inner circle. Who can the President trust? The reader might wonder, has any of this happened already and still remains classified?

The novel has a satisfactory conclusion. I could have done without the Presidential address to Congress near the end of the novel because it focused not only on the political polarization within the novel but spoke the polarization of views outside the novel, that is to say, the fact that parties and individuals can’t seem to work together for the common good. Yes, they should be able to do that, but the end of the novel seemed to be a bit of an editorial.

This novel is an entertaining read about issues that might (one day or already) impact the U.S. and other Western nations. It’s food for thought about our dependence on the Internet and about how the nation could or should react to cyber threats. One suspects that Clinton’s knowledge of the presidency brings realism to the story. The scary thing about the book–and why one keeps reading–is that it seems all too real.

Malcolm

View all my reviews

Bees vs Wasps, Soccer, Tennis, and More Hardcover Releases from Thomas-Jacob

  • When I got stung by 8 wasps several weeks ago, I didn’t expect my wife to try to top my experience. Okay, now she’s in first place with 23 aggressive bumblebee stings. She was mowing high grass and brush and hit a hidden nest. I took her to the ER where the folks at Rome, Georgia’s Redmond Hospital couldn’t have been nicer or more responsive. We were there about an hour while they put her on an IV of Epinephrine, Benadryl, saline, and a steroid of some kind. She has lots of swollen places and the expected amount of itching.
  • Great news about the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team beating the Netherlands. I wish them luck in their lawsuit that seeks to equalize prizes and pay between their teams and the men’s teams. There’s no excuse for paying the women a pittance.
  • Today is grocery store day for me, so I was happy that Serena William’s Wimbledon match was set for 8 a.m. She won. That started my day off on a positive note.
  • Among the most recent hardback releases from Thomas-Jacob are the new editions of Melinda Clayton’s four-book Cedar Hollow Series that begins with Appalachian Justice.  This is a highly popular series.

 

  • Being cheap, I waited until The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton came out in trade paperback to buy a copy. I’ve enjoyed the book primarily because it focuses on the problem of cyber-warfare as a real issue that could totally disable the government, military, and commerce of a nation. A very readable book.
  • My upcoming Special Investigative Reporter, a satirical novel about (guess what) an investigative reporter, is working its way through editing, formatting, cover design, and a book trailer. More about that later. Here’s a snippet:

The meatloaf was surprisingly lousy. It was the kind of meatloaf Aunt Edna fixed Jock when he was an innocent kid on or about the time when she was losing track of things such as who he actually was and what ingredients belonged in the food.

  • Thanks to all of you who have been posting reviews on Audible for the audio editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena.
  • Gosh, you’d think a name-brand dryer would last more than 18 months. Ours stopped working last night. We can air dry (ha ha) stuff, but there’s no heat. If it were older, we’d simply replace it, but we’re not like those people who buy new cars whenever the ashtrays get full. First, the bee attack and the ER, and now the dryer quits. Typical trickster crap from the universe.

Malcolm