Okay, I guess I’ll read ‘Madame Bovary’

I bought a copy of Madame Bovary in 1991 just before my wife and I became involved as nearly full-time volunteers at a museum near Atlanta. All of my reading time switched over to museum-related research. So the novel sat–even after we left the museum and moved all my books from one house to another twice.

I am near the beginning of the novel now, a few pages past the time when Dr. Charles Bovary marries Emma Rouault, the daughter of one of his patients, so none of Emma’s indiscretions that led to Flaubert’s obscenity trial in 1856 have happened yet.

Flaubert was acquitted and, as usually happens after such trials, the book became a bestseller, and subsequently considered a masterpiece. Most Flaubert commentators mention that he was a perfectionist, agonizing (apparently for hours) over every word.

I can see this clearly even through the 1957 translation by Francis Steegmuller. The description of the farm where Emma lives reminds me of the exuberant care of Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  The scenes are so perfectly set in both novels, that it’s easy to feel like a time traveler back to 1827-1846 (Madame Bovary) and  1500-1535 (Wolf Hall).

Currently available Steegmuller translation published in 2013.

Steegmuller (1906-1994) translated quite a few of Flaubert’s works, so he was familiar with the author and his style. The novel has been translated into English at least 19 times, the first one coming from Karl Marx’ daughter Eleanor in 1886.

The critics argue about which translation is best, some chiding translations for using the current American slang of the day in their work. Steegmuller’s is among the better known, but–having been around for a while–his version gets sniped at by subsequent translators such as Lydia Davis’ 2010 comment in New York Magazine: “You’d think, working from one text, that the translations have got to be fairly similar. But it’s amazing how different they all are. Some are fairly close, but then they’ll add a metaphor that Flaubert doesn’t have. And some are outrageously far away. Two of the most popular, Steegmuller and Hopkins—they’re not bad books. They’re well written in their own way. But they’re not close to what Flaubert did.”

As some commentators have said, those of us who aren’t French, or aren’t fluent in French, will never know exactly what Flaubert did. As we say, “The map is not the territory,” we might also say “The translation is not the novel.” As for me, I’ll keep the translation I have–with no intention whatsoever of comparing it with the others.

Now, I’m waiting to see whether or not I’ll be shocked and scandalized!

–Malcolm

Senate Passes Bill to Fix National Parks and Public Lands 

Washington, DC – Today, the United States Senate passed The Great American Outdoors Act, historic legislation that would provide dedicated funding to reduce the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog – nearly $12 billion in needed repairs across the National Park System – and provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For five years, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has urged lawmakers to fix national parks’ crumbling roads, worn-out recreational trails, failing water and sewer systems, and other critical maintenance issues. Today’s momentous vote brings us one step closer to protecting our parks now and for generations to come.

Source: Senate Passes Momentous Bill to Fix National Parks and Public Lands · National Parks Conservation Association

Anyone who visits and/or keeps up with national parks news knows that park infrastructure has been underfunded and in trouble for a long time. This legislation has been a long time coming. I hope it makes a difference.

Many parks are experiencing overcrowding. Solving this problem might take additional funds as park management plans are reviewed and discussed. Personally, I would restrict or limit visits and ban cars from more areas. As I see it, protecting the parks takes presence over their use for recreation.

–Malcolm

If change were as simple as a witch’s ladder

Witches ladders are made by tying a series of knots in thread, yarn, or some other material and that include, at each knot,  a feather, a strand of human hair, leaf, jewelry, pine cone or object that symbolizes the purposes of the ladder. The purpose is generally the creation of a spell or a meditation.

The ladders are known to have been around since the 1870s, but I suspect practitioners of the craft have used them for centuries. Typically, one sings, chants, or recites a specific of general spell element with the tying of each knot. A “simple” ladder often has nine knots and often uses this chant:

By knot of one, the spell’s begun.
By knot of two, the magic comes true.
By knot of three, so it shall be.
By knot of four, this power is stored.
By knot of five, my will shall drive.
By knot of six, the spell I fix.
By knot of seven, the future I leaven.
By knot of eight, my will be fate.
By knot of nine, what is done is mine.

Anyone with patience or the slightest affinity for arts and crafts can make a witch’s ladder, though the example shown here from the Wikipedia article probably shouldn’t be the first one attempted. However, a properly done witch’s ladder is not really simple because for the spell or meditation to manifest, the creator of the ladder must have strong faith/conviction the spell/mediation will work, must maintain a powerful focus upon each knot, and then do nothing to doubt the power of the ladder and the intentions behind it once it’s been completed.

Those who have read this blog for years know that I’m not a big fan of affirmations, statements one repeats daily with the belief that this repetition will bring changes into their consciousness and then into our consensual reality. Émile Coué (1857-1926) was a proponent of this so-called “self-suggestion” and is probably best known for the affirmation “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Yes, I think affirmations–like the steps in a witch’s ladder–can work if they are not recited more or less by rote and if we live the affirmations after making them. That is, we activate them by doing something in our lives (even symbolically) in support of the statements. That is, if–in the moments before you fall asleep–you say “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” then you aren’t really living that self-suggestion if you continue to smoke a pack of Marlboros and drink a quart of whiskey every day while thinking little or nothing about what you would look like or act like or think like if you became better.

So much of what we say and do when confronted with the need for change–as protests around the nation are bringing to our attention–is often (as people have said) little more than lip service to new ideas or a BAND-AID® applied to an old and festering problem.  Saying to the protesters (in person or figuratively), “my thoughts and prayers are with you” is meaningless unless you focus your intent and will power on those thoughts and prayers and then take positive action to back up your intentions.

The real witch’s ladder is not simple, though it need not be considered too complex to utilize effectively. Yet, the ladder is simple if the alternative is doing nothing. The trick, if there is one, is living as though the spell/mediation has come to pass even before you see it with your physical eyes.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include magic because that’s how he sees and lives in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back at Pat Conroy’s ‘Beach Music’

Beach Music (1995), Conroy’s sixth book, is the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife’s suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The novel is wide-ranging in its historical and geographical scope, and in its treatment of the Holocaust, Russian pogroms, and southern poverty, among other themes; it is generally recognized as Conroy’s ambitious—and perhaps darkest—work.Pat Conroy Web Site

Beach Music began as a 2,100-page manuscript which his publisher’s staff trimmed down. My mass market paperback is 800 pages. By today’s “standards” of shorter and shorter novels, this book is huge.

Like Conroy’s other novels, Beach Music focuses on a broken southern white male who’s the product of a dysfunctional family that grows up in the beautiful–and lyrically presented–South Carolina Lowcountry.

Excerpt: “It enclosed us in its laceries as we watched the moon spill across the Atlantic like wine from an overturned glass. With the light all around us, we felt secret in that moon-infused water like pearls forming in the soft tissues of oysters.”

The novel’s length comes, in part, from the backstories of many of the other characters as well as childhood reminiscences between protagonist Jack McCall and his brothers.

If we were to extract a basic plotline, it would be this. McCall leaves the Lowcountry with his two-year-old daughter Leah and moves to Rome after his wife Shyla commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. McCall is, of course, blamed for this; his wife’s parents claim McCall is unfit to raise Leah, but fail to prove their case in court. He severs his relationships with his family to the point of keeping his address and phone number secret. Slowly, family members work their way back into his life and communications begin to open up.

Part of his understanding of his extended family comes from considering their dark backgrounds, including the Holocaust. His mother’s background is especially bleak and is almost too horrible to comprehend. My belief is that these divergences, while well written and very dark, are too long.

The darkness is balanced out somewhat by the fact that McCall and his brothers take a devil-may-care approach to life. They’re likely to say or do almost anything, proper or not. On McCall’s first trip back to the states, somebody asks him who’s watching his daughter in Rome while he’s gone. His response is that Charles Manson got paroled and needed the work.

While sitting with his brothers in the hospital room where their mother is in a coma, somebody mentions that they should be careful what they say because people in comas can hear what’s being said at one level of the mind or another. Jack responds by saying something like, Mama, this is Jack. I’m the one who loves you. My brothers think you’re trash and don’t care about you at all. When it comes to your children’s love, it’s always Jack.

My favorite Conroy novel remains Prince of Tides, also filled with Lowcountry beauty and a family’s dysfunctions. I’ve read Prince of Tides multiple times. This past week was the first time I re-read Beach Music since it came out. It remains in my view, a stunning book in part because of its flaws.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign

Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.

Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you. Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)

Source: Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign | Jane Friedman

Many prospective authors think seeking a publisher is passé because they (a) don’t want to go to the trouble, (b) see finding a publisher is a long, hard road, (c) prefer to self-publish their books in order to have “control.”

Most books don’t sell, but they’re more likely to sell with the editing and support a publisher can provide–even a small publisher. To get the best possible publisher/author match, Jane Friedman expects you so ask questions rather than saying “OMG, a publisher responded to my query letter, so the last thing I’m going to do is rock the boat by doing anything to ensure we’re in sync.”

This article is long because you have a lot of questions to ask about publisher responsibilities, book quality, bookstores, marketing, and interacting with readers. The article ends with a “cookie-cutter” example of a marketing plan.

All this is well worth a writer’s consideration before s/he rushes off to Kindle Direct Publishing or Lulu.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novel about racism in north Florida in the 1950s.

 

In the jingle jangle morning

The song has a bright, expansive melody and has become famous for its surrealistic imagery, influenced by artists as diverse as French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. The lyrics call on the title character to play a song and the narrator will follow. Interpretations of the lyrics have included a paean to drugs such as LSD, a call to the singer’s muse, a reflection of the audience’s demands on the singer, and religious interpretations. – Wikipedia

Bob Dylan released “Mr. Tambourine Man” in March 1965 in his “Bring It All Back Home” album when I was at the last place I wanted to be (college), tied down, I thought, by an ancient canon of learning that was taught and graded in an ancient style of “education” that did not meet my needs nor my temperament. What would have met my needs would have been saying “to tell with all this” and then telling Mr. Tambourine man “I’ll come following you.”

Five years later, Gordon Lightfoot released a song with a similar intent, “Minstrel of the Dawn” on his “If You Could Read My Mind” album when I was–once again–in the last place I wanted to be (the navy) freshly returned from Vietnam and a war I did not support then serving (ironically) on the staff at the navy’s boot camp where I helped prepare others to go to the place I just left. I soon became a conscientious objector and left the navy having become a convert to the minstrelsy of the “Minstrel of the Dawn” in the jingle jangle of a new morning.

Because of my belief in dreams, I am nothing if not impractical, and heavily influenced–actually under the spell–of these two songs for a lifetime, and while I cannot duplicate the quality of the songs, much less an old-time Troubador, I have always infused their spirit and spell in my work. That is to say, I lead my characters astray and want to hypnotize readers into following them–as Lightfoot says–“While the old guitar rings.”

Some have said Mr. Tambourine man is about losing oneself to drugs, a notion that Dylan denies. Like most writers, I’m dealing something more dangerous than drugs: words and stories spun into haunting and irresistible dreams. If the government ever figures out the truth about stories, they’ll either ban them or heavily tax them.

If you read fiction, you know that stories are written to make you “forget about today until tomorrow” while trying to “get into things more happy than blue.” There are side effects to such stories that are more dangerous than those attached to Fentanyl and Oxycontin: addiction to freedom and dreams. I’ve been prescribed Oxycontin at least three times and never got addicted because stories were always a much great temptation.

Money-wise, the street value of stories is less than the street value of Fentanyl and Oxycontin. However, I should mention that there’s no cure for stories. It won’t matter because, in your jingle-jangle mornings, you’ll be too far out in space to want one.

Malcolm

Click on my name to see the stories in my bag.

 

 

 

 

 

Pet phrases ultimately distract readers.

I’m reading a bestselling novel that uses one word and one phrase multiple times, and my first thought is: “Why didn’t the author or the publisher’s editor catch this?” When I write, I sometimes think up a cool bit of dialogue or an apt bit of description. Funny thing is, the first few times I use them, these bits and pieces of language seem fresh and new.

But then my intuition starts nagging at me: “Malcolm, you’ve seen these words before.” There are probably fancy applications that will ferret out suspected words and phrases that have been overused. I have no idea what they are, so I use the “find” feature in Word.

If I think I might have used a word or phrase too often, I type in a phrase such as “passel of popes.” Sometimes I’m shocked at how often I used it. The repetition of phrases, especially slang or a character’s often-used cliché can help define that character and make him/her different from the others in the cast. This fails when multiple characters are using the same cliché

That’s not only unlikely but kills the differentiation between characters the author was trying to achieve. One phrase that’s been overused in the novel I’m reading is “If you say so, Sir.”

I’ll give the author some slack by suggesting that phrase might have been popular in the 1950s where the novel is set. In today’s usage, that phrase is considered sarcastically cutting, meaning, “I think that’s really stupid but you’re entitled to your opinion”–not something I’d want to say to an officer who outranks me. The phase fails to have any impact when dozens of characters are saying it. The publisher should have caught this.

The word the author used over and over is “precious,” in this case, referring to something hard to find and yet essential, as in “The soldiers found a supply depot filled with precious rations.”  Or precious fuel. Or precious ammo. Maybe the author sees this as a stylistic device. I don’t.

I wish he’d used a different word about 95% of the time. It’s easy to miss overused words and phrases in our own work. A good beta reader and/or a good editor might catch most of them. Otherwise, if you think you said “passel of popes” too often, let Word tell you how often that was. —Malcolm

Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore Destroyed in Riots – Will there be an apology or restitution?

Uncle Hugo’s, the oldest independent science fiction and fantasy bookstore in the US founded in 1974, burned down during the recent riots protesting police brutality and racism in the wake of the shocking death of George Floyd during a police arrest in Minneapolis.

Source: Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore Burned Down in Riots – Locus Online

See more, including the owner’s comments here: Minneapolis Rioters Burned One Of America’s Most Beloved Independent Bookstores To The Ground. Owner Don Blyly says his insurance probably won’t cover his loss.

I suspect outside agitators rather than protesters did this. Apparently, no police were present. On TV shows, the cops find the perpetrators via recordings from traffic and security cameras. That probably won’t happen here or at any of the other stores looted or burnt and watched live by 24-hour news station viewers.

The irony, of course, is the number of black-owned businesses that have gone up in flames: not exactly a plus for the Black community is it?

The cities that allowed this destruction failed to protect the populace. Perhaps metro governments should pay for the peoples’ losses. On a hopeful note, this is a good sign: Donations to businesses destroyed by looters and rioters on Minneapolis’ Lake Street surpass $2M

–Malcolm

 

 

Images of chaos or images of protest

The autopsy is not yet clear about what killed 46-year-old George Floyd when he was apprehended by police. What is also not clear is why officer Derek Chauvin and his men kept Floyd pinned down on the street for eight minutes rather than putting him in the back of a squad and transporting him to HQ for an arraignment.

We do know that police departments generally have banned/discouraged various kinds of chokeholds since they often become lethal force when such force is not warranted.

Wikipedia photo

I tend to respect the motives of the legal protesters in the 30 cities across the country where there have been folks marching in the streets or congregating in parks. I worry, though, that the protesters’ valid anger and a valid message is, in some cities, being stolen by outside agitators who appear and set cars and buildings on fire while looting stores.

The public’s impression from the multitude of images on late-night news stations is probably not positive because the protesters are being blamed for the violence caused by those who showed up to create a mess.

The mess has become more tangled as police fire pepper-spray and rubber bullets at reporters who have credentials and are obviously not part of the rioting.

I do see signs of home. Protests that don’t become violent, and stories such as this one: “A sheriff put down his baton to listen to protesters. They chanted ‘walk with us,’ so he did.”

Violence tends to beget violence as more agitators appear or as overwhelmed police and national guard troops try to avoid the bricks and Molotov cocktails thrown at them without harming innocent protestors of using “excessive force” against those who are rioting.

As the Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said after a night of unrest, “this isn’t protest, this is chaos.” I had to agree with her. I also think she might be right when she says Trump needs to stop talking. TV viewers leave with the impression that protestors think looting, burning buildings, and destroying police cars helps their cause. In most cases, it appears to me that bad apples appear once the protest starts and play out their own criminal agendas.

I hope most police officers are not guilty of racial profiling and so-called “street justice.” The trouble is, there are more than enough incidents every year that show everyone, especially African Americans, that our police departments need more training and a fresh agenda. We can start by getting rid of the trend of militarizing our police, and we can follow that up by firing officers who are guilty of racial profiling. This anger we see on our streets didn’t come out of nowhere.

–Malcolm