What if the blog gurus are nuts?

The gurus say that writers with blogs should not dedicate every post to a description of their latest books or pleas for people to buy it. Instead, they suggest that authors dedicate a fair number of their blogs to mini-articles about the locations and themes of their stories. This, they say, will draw the kinds of readers who want to read your novels.

When I started my four-novel Florida Folk Magic series, I focused some of my posts on the Florida Panhandle where the books are set, some on the environment created by the KKK in the 1950s, and some on the art of conjure.

This seemed to make more sense than displaying a static photo of my latest book cover.  As the gurus said, “If every post you write says buy my book, you’re pretty much posting SPAM.” Heaven forbid. So, I wrote about the subjects I thought prospective readers of the novels might find interesting.

The posts got a few hits when they were new. I have no idea whether anyone clicked on the links to my books. Months went by. Then years. Now suddenly I’m getting hundreds of hits on every post that has anything to do with conjure. Yes, I appreciate that, but the point is, I had no intention of setting myself up either as an expert on conjure or a clearinghouse for rootworker information.

Perhaps the gurus steered me wrong. My current posts are receiving a fraction of the visitors of posts written months or years ago. This is not good. Now I wonder if I should delete all the conjure techniques posts or just ignore them. If everyone asking Google search “what is goofer dust?” bought a copy of one or more of my novels, I could live with the skewed statistics toward conjure.

But they don’t. They learn how to cast a spell and move on.

The gurus never said this would happen, that all those posts related to your novels’ settings and backgrounds would take on a life of their own and create, say–a hoodoo resource blog. I don’t know enough to host such a thing. So, what say you? Should I delete all the old conjure posts that are getting all the hits? Or should I take a deep breath and ignore them?

Or, should I put a hex on all of them so they go away?

There are a lot of options, but I really need for this blog to get out of the conjure biz. Or else.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical comedy “Special Investigative Reporter.”

U. S. complicity in the brutal 1950 repression in South Korea

Lisa See has written a wonderful novel, The Island of Sea Women,  about the women who worked as haenyeo divers on South Korea’s Jeju Island during the 1930s and 1940s. The focus, in addition to the matriarchal-world of harvesting food from the seafloor, is on the long-term relationships between the women and their families during a very dangerous period on Korean history.

In 1950, there were brutal purges in South Korea by the U.S.-stalled government of Syngman Rhee against real and imagined communists in the south, including Jeju Island. Multiple villages were burnt, thousands of innocent people were brutally tortured and killed, all based on the lame excuse that a communist walking through the countryside proved everyone there was a potential sympathizer.

I found myself growing more and more angry about the complicity of the U.S. in these massacres as I got farther into the novel. See mentions in the afterword that Jeju citizens were forbidden from speaking about what happened for 50 years under pain of death.

The Americans, who occupied South Korea at the end of World War two classified anything having to do with the purges, the pictures of which look like something out of Nazi Germany. Our military could have and should have brought order to the land it governed. Instead, as General MacArthur claimed, the U.S. viewed the executions as an “internal matter” while local commanders surreptitiously cheered the brutal putdown of the left-wing uprisings, and even took pictures of the mass graves of innocents killed in the process.

To learn more, I suggest http://islandstudies.net/weis/weis_2016v06/v06n4-2.pdf, an author mentioned by See in the novel’s afterword.

As a grade school student, I saw news reports about the Korean War. What I did not see–since it would be classified for years–was any news about the South Korean president we installed killing his own people. Once again, we were cut off from the truth about what our country was doing, or in this case, not doing.

Lisa See has not only written another powerful novel that teaches us much about a culture far away but one that sheds light on another failure of our civilian and military leadership.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels including “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”  We are especially happy with the highly praised narration of the audiobook.

Chapter One Prize

The Chapter One Prize is open to writers over 18 who are working on an as-yet-unpublished novel. The prize has been established to support and celebrate novelists. This prize aims to find the best opening chapter of a novel-in-progress written in the English language. On March 15, 2021, the three prize winners and honorable mentions will be announced here on the website and via social media, and all entrants will be contacted via email about the results. Prize winners will have the option of showcasing their Chapter One Prize entries on this website.

Source: Chapter One Prize

If you have a novel in progress, this competition looks interesting. Submit your first chapter by the end of the month with an entry fee of $20 and you might win a prize and have your work featured on the Gutsy Great Novelist website.

A lot of people avoid competitions with entry fees. I don’t because the fees are a fair way of raising the prize money. If you win, you enhance your online presence. If you don’t, you’ll probably have a nicely polished first chapter.

I’m planning to send in the first chapter of my novel in progress even though my chapters are very short (Dan Brown length).

Make sure you check the formatting requirements carefully.

Malcolm

My novel in progress is a sequel to “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande” called “Weeping Wall.”

What if all those younger than you are dead?

Once you get to my age, you notice obituaries for younger people who are said to have had a long and happy life. You also notice that people whom you worked with years ago–and would like to contact–are gone leaving, I guess, a séance as the only alternative since they no longer have e-mail or Facebook accounts.

As I research my novel in progress, I think of people who have the information I need–or, perhaps, the advice I need–and realize they’re long gone. My main character in Conjure Woman’s Cat claimed she was older than dirt. I am by no means ready to make such a claim.

So, where is everybody?

I find the loss of old colleagues and old friends more disturbing than the yearly lists of famous people who “were gone too soon.” Most of those people never returned my calls. Those who did are the ones I miss.

Basically, I think the people we love should never die. I guess that was one of the themes of the 1985 movie “Cocoon,” a film I happened to like. And the cast! (from Wikipedia): “Cocoon is a 1985 American science-fiction comedy-drama film directed by Ron Howard about a group of elderly people rejuvenated by aliens.[6][7] The film stars Don AmecheWilford BrimleyHume CronynBrian DennehyJack GilfordSteve GuttenbergMaureen StapletonJessica TandyGwen VerdonHerta WareTahnee Welch, and Linda Harrison. The screenplay was written by Tom Benedek, from David Saperstein’s story.”

I suppose the film did well with those who liked the idea that they would never die. I happen to think that notion is true. But while we are separated from each other, it would be nice to have a cosmic e-mail service as a way for keeping up.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism novels and short stories including “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

It’s Monday: What are you reading?

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to learn about new books or old classics that a friend has re-discovered. I tend to stick with authors I like, such as John Hart, but if a friend or book blogger tells me about something else, I can easily be tempted to try a book or author I’m not familiar with.

This week, I started another novel by Lisa See, The Island of Sea Women. I’ve read an enjoyed most of her novels. The book was released in 2019 by Scribner.

From the Publisher

“A mesmerizing new historical novel” (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Lisa See, the bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and devastating family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility—but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

“This vivid…thoughtful and empathetic” novel (The New York Times Book Review) illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge and the men take care of the children. “A wonderful ode to a truly singular group of women” (Publishers Weekly), The Island of Sea Women is a “beautiful story…about the endurance of friendship when it’s pushed to its limits, and you…will love it” (Cosmopolitan).

I’m enjoying the book. Younger readers may be surprised to learn that Japan occupied Korea for many years

What are you reading?

So, are you reading something wild and wonderful? If so, please share the title and author and what you think of it so far.

Malcolm

spoilt hope

The 1969 feature film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (directed by Sidney Pollack with an Oscar-winning supporting actor performance by Gig Young) has, to my mind, been one of the best illustrations of desperate people giving their last best effort to catch a financial break. The movie focuses on a depression-era dance marathon that purportedly will award a prize for the pair of dancers that stays on their feet the longest. It turns out to be something of a scam.

I think of this movie often when I think of people hoping against hope that they’ll find ways to support themselves and their families through troubled times only to find out again and again that the cards are apparently stacked against them. The recent Booker Prize Winning novel Shuggie Bain is, perhaps, a more current example.

During the pandemic, more people than usual have been looking for the smallest shred of hope that they will survive this, all of this from COVID itself, to the bankruptcies and lost jobs caused by lockdowns and other restrictions, to seeing hospitalized and nursing home separated loved ones again.

It takes grit and courage to keep trying, doesn’t it? To keep scanning the news for stories that say things are getting better. For most of the pandemic, the news has been bad and that as bad as the news is now, we can expect it to get worse. Now we hear that the vaccines seem to be helping while simultaneously hearing that a lot of people are still waiting for their turn for a shot. 

I am surprised at how quickly a handful of companies have created viable vaccines and equally surprised at how inept society has become that these vaccines haven’t been available in a fraction of the time it’s taking. Today’s news informs us that the U.S. is about to reach 500,000 deaths. Yet solutions continue to appear at a snail’s pace. The availability of vaccines that most of us still cannot get is an example of spoilt hope. These are the times of government negligence and felt-serving partisan “solutions” that show dereliction of duty at both the state and federal level

The U. S. could have done better. Meanwhile, our world is collapsing around us while red tape ensures quick solutions are unimportant. One can understand why dance marathon entrant Jane Fonda would tell another character to shoot her at the end of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

–Malcolm

Panic Grass – a writer’s dream name

Wikipedia photo

I love double meanings. That’s why I like the name “panic grass.” It has nothing to do with panic–that comes from Panicum–but the use of the word when describing an environment where (in your story) things are going wrong is a nice subliminal trick.

The common or regional names of many plants will help you create the kind of ambiance you want. Perhaps that’s cheating.  But I don’t care as long as the name is factual and also likely to be used in the place where my story is set.

If you have a good plant or wildflower guide for your state or region, you’ll find a lot of “local color.” I have these guides for both Florida and Montana. They not only help me describe the location but support my addiction to puns and words with double meanings such as “spurned panic grass.”

The guidebooks also ensure that the flowers in your stories are blooming at the time of the year when they bloom in “real life.”

–Malcolm

Briefly Noted: ‘Race Against Time’ by Jerry Mitchell

He’s been called “a loose cannon,” a “pain in the ass” and a “white traitor.” For more than 15 years, Jerry Mitchell has unearthed documents, cajoled suspects and witnesses, and quietly pursued the evidence in unsolved murders of civil rights activists. Mitchell’s investigative reporting and sustained coverage for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, has brought to justice four Ku Klux Klan members, beginning with the conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and, most recently, Edgar Ray Killen who was found guilty in June for orchestrating the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in 1964. – Columbia School of Journalism, Chancellor Award Winner Bio of Jerry Mitchell

If you’re old enough to have been around during the 1960s violence led by the KKK (I am), then you know that fires, bombs,  clubs, knives, and bullets wielded by the KKK took a lot of lives but these events seldom led to arrests and convictions. I grew up in that world and I knew the reason why. Nobody saw nothin’.

However a reporter named Jerry Mitchell thought there had probably been much to see and that since there’s no statute of limitations on murder, those unsolved KKK murders needed another look. As John Grisham said, “For almost two decades, investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.”

From the Publisher

On June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings, in what would become known as the “Mississippi Burning” case, were among the most brazen acts of violence during the Civil Rights Movement. And even though the killers’ identities, including the sheriff’s deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.

It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.

In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the Civil Rights Movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell reveals how he unearthed secret documents, found long-lost suspects and witnesses, building up evidence strong enough to take on the Klan. He takes us into every harrowing scene along the way, as when Mitchell goes into the lion’s den, meeting one-on-one with the very murderers he is seeking to catch. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.

Race Against Time is an astonishing, courageous story capturing a historic race for justice, as the past is uncovered, clue by clue, and long-ignored evils are brought into the light. This is a landmark book and essential reading for all Americans.

In 1964, I didn’t think anyone would have the guts to find and publish the truth, the in-depth truth that names names and brings people to court. Jerry Mitchell did what all reporters should have been doing. This book came out a year ago: since then, I hope it has inspired other reporters to look deeper into their stories about racial violence stemming from hate groups.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four anti-racism novels: “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” and “Fate’s Arrows.” They are available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover through major online booksellers and via your local bookstore’s orders from its Ingram Catalog.,

Authors must learn how to conceal information

If you pick up what you hope will be a fabulous novel and discover the entire story is on the first page, you’ll feel cheated. You were expecting to be scared, puzzled, enchanted, inspired, or excited with a darn fine page-turner of a yarn.

When you read the most important information first, what do you have? If you said “news story,” you’d be right. Between the headline and the lead (some people spell that “lede”) in the first paragraph or two, you will get the gist of what happened.

Wikipedia graphic

This is why news reporters use what’s called the inverted pyramid style of writing, that is to say, the important information comes first. The story’s position on the newspaper page, the size of the headline, and sometimes the accompanying photographs also tell you the relative importance–in the editor’s eyes–of that story in the news of the day.

Newspaper readers and TV news program viewers are generally expected to be like the 911 dispatcher: important information first. If there’s a dead guy on your front porch, you don’t tell the dispatcher about the dinner had and movie you saw on your way home before finding the dead guy.

The readers of novels and short stories expect teasers early on, but not the ending of the story. So, the author is concealing most of what s/he knows during the writing process. Writers must figure out how to do this early in their careers so that in spite of hiding nearly everything they appear not to be hiding anything.

So, while being careful of what s/he says, a writer is also careful of what s/he doesn’t say. That is, writers learn how to lie and conceal smoothly. The novel is a juggling game wherein the author is constantly thinking, “When should I say X?” Obviously, authors have to provide clues or the entire novel won’t seem believable when the reader gets to the end. But, if the clues are clumsy, the reader won’t bother to go to the last page because they figured everything out half-way through the book.

Many writing teachers advise starting the story as close to the ending as possible. One reason for this that it keeps superfluous material out of the book. Another reason is that it focuses the writer on moving the plot forward toward that ending with as few unnecessary  (and often boring) side trips into stuff that doesn’t matter.

While concealing information from the reader, the author has to play fair. S/he can’t have an otherwise smart detective fail to ask a witness or a suspect the most obvious question any detective would ask. And, if the author is writing from one character’s point of view, that character can’t selectively leave things out their narrative while in the process of planning to do them: that’s not natural.

Like all liars, a writer can’t get caught. Right, they never swore to tell the truth, just to give you a story that looks like the truth. The savvy reader knows, of course, that the author will be guilty of the continuous sin of omission beginning on page one.  But then, that’s what the reader wants.

Malcolm

If you have read my novel “Fate’s Arrows,” think back about the things that I did not say about my main character Pollyanna until the end of the book. 

Potpourri (unscented)

  • The weather forecaster(s) who predicted a lot of north Georgia snow yesterday were wrong–not that I’m complaining. There were a few flakes around, mostly two-legged.
  • Those who know a cat has adopted us want us to name it. Look, we’re already feeding him and trying to keep him warm. We’ve referring to him as OC (outside kitty) but people want something better.
  • My former publisher Vanilla Heart Publishing has closed due to health problems of the owner. 
  • I was happy to see that one of the first things President Biden said he wanted to achieve was unity. I hope he can do this and that the unity includes voters from all parts of the political spectrum–because if it doesn’t, we won’t really have unity will we?
  • This is not a good time to live in Texas or have anything to do with managing the state’s power grid.
  • Gosh, all the old “What’s My Line” shows are available to YouTube. Fun to see a few of them again after all these years.
  • As I discovered with “tennis shoes” some years ago, expensive hearing aids don’t last any longer than cheap hearing aids. So, I ordered another pair of the cheap ones and am happy to say I can hear what my wife’s talking about.
  • Rush Limbaugh has died. I never listened to his radio program because I didn’t agree with him. Yet, I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone.
  • I keep wondering why my top post is an old one about graveyard dirt.  If you need to ask me about it, you’re probably going to get hurt. Just saying.
  • Serena Williams’ last tennis match aired at 3:00 a.m. No, I didn’t stay up to watch it. I do intend to watch her Australian Open match tonight against Osaka at 10:00 p.m.

  • I continue to work on my next novel, Weeping Wall, set in Glacier National Park. I seem to be writing slower than ever. Most be getting old.
  • Next week, I’ll be getting my semiannual anti-cancer shot. I don’t like the fact that it causes random hot flashes. Oh boy, I can hardly wait.
  • I’m currently reading a David Baldacci novel to take a break from Shuggie Bain which, though it’s well written, is filled with people who are messed up.

Malcolm