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Posts by Malcolm R. Campbell

Speaking of covers again

I’m a long-time fan of film noir and had the genre in mind when I wrote my upcoming novel Special Investigative Reporter. A noir feature film is usually a fairly dark–and an often hopeless–kind of movie. It’s usually in black and white, features a lot of blunt, voice-over narration, and portrays cops and detectives trying to solve cases in foreboding environments.

Special Investigative Reporter isn’t a noir novel. It’s a mix of comedy, satire, and corruption. Yet, once I got my rights to the novel back from the publisher that released the original edition under another title, I thought we needed a stronger cover. I suggested to my publisher, Thomas-Jacob, that a big-city image might work. Melinda Clayton, who manages Thomas-Jacob and who writes darker novels than I do, designed a beautiful cover.

I like the city-scape scene, the word “bar” in the picture, and the stark, noir-film-like rendering of the title. The individual on the cover–who’s my protagonist Jock Stewart–looks like he could be a detective or newspaperman out of the film noir era. Melinda once told me that some of Jock Stewart’s lines reminded her of Humphrey Bogart. She has a good ear. I was thinking of the kind of voice-over narration he would do in such movies as “Dark Passage,” “Dead Reckoning,” and “Key Largo.” (If you like noir films and have Turner Classic Movies on your satellite or cable menu, look for Noir Alley. It features noir films–except in August–and I watch it like a religion.)

My protagonist Jock Stewart, who’s been a reporter since the days of letterpress, is old fashioned. He would despise the kind of “journalism” we see on the 24/7 news sites. This novel’s satire pokes fun at those kinds of sites and reminds us that journalism used to be about reporting the facts and not about displaying the reporter’s (or anchor’s) opinion about those facts.

I’ve been teasing you for a while about this upcoming novel, but we’re rather in a holding pattern waiting for Ingram to send us the proof copy of the hardcover edition. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying looking at Melinda’s cover.

Malcolm

 

 

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Your story is waiting to be told

All you have to do is write it.

As I search for writing-related articles to post on my Facebook author’s page, I see a fair number about writing memoirs. More and more of these of late have suggested that so-called “everyday people” should be writing memoirs–not just the rich and famous, not just those who have lived through wondrous or horrifying experiences, and not just those whose lives have intertwined with widely known people.

If I may be so bold as to suggest: your story is the life you are living. You’ve had good luck and bad luck, made good decisions and bad decisions and learned a lot of things in the process. What changed you the most: the so-called “good” or the so-called “bad.” In fiction, “bad” is often more compelling than “good” whether it’s bad people doing bad things or good people fighting bad people.

Whatever we discover in this chaotic mix of “bad” and “good” is worth saving, if not for the world at large, but for our families and friends. It need not be a hardcover or a paperback or an e-book available on Amazon. Perhaps it’s a folder of printed out pages or a series of files on a flash drive. (I prefer the printout because twenty or thirty years from now, there might not be any hardware or software around than can read a flash drive.)

I have two granddaughters who are much too young to hear the story of my life. When they’re older, it might be interesting. Or, it might not. Maybe my story will found like ancient history to them and whether it does or doesn’t they might have fun reading it. One of my aunts lived to be over 100 years old. She told me stories about traveling across the country in a covered wagon from Iowa to Washington state. Her stories made history come alive and made my family’s past more vital.

I found my family stories to be interesting, and it never occurred to me that my parents and grandparents were sharing them with me out of a sense of vanity. Yet, many of us feel like we’re being vain when we try to write our stories whether we sound more like heroes or villains. Even when I was young and tried to keep a journal, I realized I couldn’t write it straight and that I was always writing it with a bias that made me look less screwed up than I was. So, I know it’s hard to get past that need to justify ourselves and just tell the story has it happened, warts and all.

Most of us don’t have Wikipedia entries our kids can Google in the future. If we live in a Walton’s-like environment in one big house, we can share a lot of stories over time. When families are scattered, this is harder to do. We used to write snail mail letters to each other, but that’s not part of today’s reality–and even when we did write them, we usually didn’t save them to read again twenty years later. My parents wrote an annual Christmas letter, a process that has become much maligned. Yet my copies of it remind me what I was doing at different ages. One joke about Christmas letters was that they told the good stuff and not the bad stuff. Which is not to say that when and if you write the story of your life, you have to disclose every embarrassing moment. Our memoirs need not be a “Mommie Dearest” kind of thing.

My younger brother has scanned in multiple family letters and documents and figured out our genealogy from my father’s earlier research and from sites like Ancestry.com. Personally, I find it tedious to read letters my mother wrote to her parents in the 1940s. If we write memoirs, perhaps we should summarize this kind of information rather than trying to include a minute-by-minute account of each day’s minutiae. Maybe less is more in some cases. Perhaps sketches of our teenage years are more likely to be read than doctoral dissertations with footnotes. <g>

Here’s a page on a memoir-oriented site that lists books that might be of help if you decide to take the plunge.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Review: ‘Only Charlotte’ by Rosemary Poole-Carter

Only CharlotteOnly Charlotte by Rosemary Poole-Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rosemary-Poole-Carter, an adept within the Southern Gothic genre, brings us a deliciously tangled post Civil War novel in Only Charlotte in which three intertwined lives–Leonore James, her brother Dr. Gilbert Crew, and Charlotte Eden–rise and fall like storm-tossed lily pads in the brackish waters of the swampy morals of New Orleans.

Thrice-married Lenore (who is now alone again) opens up her house to her younger brother who uses it as a base for establishing a medical practice. In sections narrated by both Lenore and Gilbert, we see that the young doctor has become infatuated with Charlotte while treating her children. At the outset, Lenore sees nothing less than catastrophe coming out of this while Gilbert sees a young wife whose troubles go deeper than is generally known.

Lenore and Gilbert grow in sense and sensibility throughout this novel. Lenore, who sees herself somewhat in the role of Paulina in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is especially cautious about the problems Charlotte may or may not face because she is older than her volatile brother and well-schooled in the society’s rules and traditions. In a sense, Gilbert has a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach that might be based on his obvious love for Charlotte more than on the actual dangers she faces.

The novel is perfectly paced in a manner befitting a southern gothic novel, brings us multi-dimensional characters who have the capacity for change in an era in which “stagnant” and “corrupt” are watchwords, and a twisted mystery that is like a spiderweb in the dark. The prose is lyrical and exceptional and historically well-grounded in this highly recommended novel.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

Thinking book covers

This is one of the cover pictures I use on my Facebook author’s page. It’s a handy way of showing all the covers in my Florida Folk Magic Series together.

While the book cover is often the last thing an author thinks about, it’s the first thing a prospective reader sees. Some say a reader decides in 15 seconds whether to look inside the book at a physical book store or via the look inside features on book pages at Amazon and B&N. However, as I write I can usually see my characters and their environment quite clearly; it’s almost as though I’m looking at them in a photograph.

So, I’m lucky that my publisher Thomas-Jacob works with authors to come up with the cover art. In this case, we used two artists. The first did Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman; then, when he wasn’t available to do the cover for Lena, we found another great artist who was willing to work in the style we needed to make all three books look like they belonged together.

Thoughts behind the cover: The book is set in another era, the 1950s. So, we have an unpaved road through the piney woods. Eulalie, the conjure woman, wore a dress and a hat (unlike the jeans and tee shirts people wear today) when she rode her bike into town to sell stuff out of her garden at the mercantile. Her kitty, Lena, would either side in basket or trot alongside. The railroad tracks figure into the story.

The style of the art tells you these stories are magical in that there’s something ethereal the scenes: the radiance in the first book, the spooky nighttime in the second, and the sudden appearance of an alligator in the road in the third one. The mood here would be quite different if we had tried to do this cover with a photograph of a similar scene or with stock drawings.

I like spending time on the look and feel of the covers because they set the stage for the story. When I look at the covers of some self-published books on Amazon, I wish the authors had worked a little harder to come up with unique covers instead of using stock photography and a boxy layout. Spending the money for original art or custom photography is money well spent.

Malcolm

 

Don’t Let Your Publisher Become Your Worst Enemy

I have a wonderful publisher, in Thomas-Jacob, and couldn’t be happier. One of the positives of a small (some say boutique) publisher is that the author and the publisher can actually talk to each other about what the best approach to the book.

Larger publishers often make decisions about books that come from heavenly heights and cannot be questioned.

A long-time online friend of mine is an acclaimed Canadian author. I’ve read most of her books. What bothers me about her publisher’s decision making is the fact that those books have different Canadian and U.S. Titles. Sometimes this is necessary. But in her case, those differing titles cause a lot of reader confusion about what book they’re buying. Frankly, I don’t think the U. S. and Canadian audiences are so different that a book requires separate titles for Amazon and Amazon.ca. I think this kind of thing hurts the author.

I just finished reading a novel by one of my favorite U.S. authors that is set in New Orleans just after the Civil War. I considered posting a review today, but then saw that on Amazon the book was listed as Political Fiction. Those who like southern gothic fiction and historical fiction will never find it there. Pardon my exasperation, but who the hell came up with those genre classifications for this novel?

From what I hear, if one of the major U.S. publishers releases your novel, you may have to put up with some stuff you don’t like. I guess that’s called “paying your dues” or pretending that “the publisher knows best.”

Book genres aren’t perfect. Neither are titles. But they do tend to steer prospective readers toward an author’s book. If you can, I hope you can discuss such things with your publisher before the historical novel you titled “Tough Women” is released as “Porn Babes” in the “How To Repair a Flathead 6 Engine” genre.

I’d say that if you cannot agree on the title and the genre, you have a problem.

Malcolm

Do most writers want to be Rowling, Grisham, Roberts, and Patterson?

No.

It’s fair to say that most writers want to sell more copies of their books than they do, that they wish small press books were noticed by the media and by those handing out awards, and that they had the resources to do on-location research anywhere in the world.

However, I doubt that most of us want to be in the public eye 24/7. Writers don’t attract paparazzi like movie stars do, but those who are famous can’t really hide. Frankly, who wants a tour bus pulling up in their driveway with people wanting to see their houses, their cats, their writing desks, and even their sock drawers? I don’t.

In the FAQ of a blog written by a lady who adopted a coyote, one question is: “When can we see Charlie?” The answer is: “Charlie doesn’t want to see you.” I feel like Charlie. I don’t want people showing up and taking selfies of themselves (with me in them) to post on their Facebook pages.

Suffice it to say, there are consequences to being famous that many of us don’t want to cope with. Perhaps many of us want to be successful and anonymous. A lot of writers are successful without attracting the attention of Rowling, Grisham, Roberts, and Patterson. That sounds good because we’re sort of under the RADAR.

Plus, if you’re a really famous writer, you’re “forced” to blurb people’s books, serve on panels discussing the use of adverbs, appearing at conventions, and doing readings in places you’ve never heard of. Not my thing. When I read the newsletters of so-called mid-list authors, I see that they’re juggling time between writing, personal time, and events. I don’t like events. I don’t want to be there, much less to give a speech. That’s not me. I have a feeling it’s not a lot of people.

Past a point, fame and success both have their prices. I’m not willing to pay them. I would love being the successful enigmatic writer who sells 100000000000 books a year that nobody can find due to an unlisted telephone number and an unpublished address. I’d post a fake picture on my Facebook page and website that looks like one of those criminals that used to be displayed on the most-wanted lists in post offices.

People would say, “Hell, he looks like he’s guilty of something. Let’s not go looking for him.” Good. I can live with that persona.

Malcolm

 

My new home away from home

Okay, I didn’t pick this place out on the House Hunters TV show, so you won’t see me in an upcoming episode looking at ensuite bathrooms, kitchen appliances, or backyard pools. Actually, this is Rome, Georgia’s radiation oncology center:

Since I’ll be going there daily for radiation treatments starting August 15th, I feel like it would be easier if I had a penthouse apartment upstairs. Two days of CT scans have been completed, so now they (the doctors) have a template for where they’re going to beam the radiation for 40 business days. I suggested that walking into a nuclear power plant would be faster, but apparently, that has unpleasant side effects.

The waiting room has large black & white photographs of people who went there and were cured. Each has a positive blurb next to it. There’s also a bell you can ring on the day you’re cancer-free. Since the prognosis is good so, I might right that bell, even though nobody’s promising to but a poster-sized photo of me in the waiting room with links to where people can buy my books.

The whole thing is expensive, but Medicare pays most of it. I’m not especially stressed out about this, just kind of ticked off that I’ll be driving over there every day (except weekends). On Facebook, a lot of people who’ve gone through this before, have spoken of their experiences and the fact that they’re doing fine now. That’s nice to hear!

In other news, we haven’t released Special Investigative Reporter yet because we’re waiting for a proof copy of the hardcover edition. I’m still working on another Florida novel but set it aside temporarily because this prostate cancer stuff was making it difficult to return to the world of Eulalie and Lena.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Malcolm

 

Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery 

Metaphors, similes, and creative imagery can be useful, creative tools for relaying emotion. In case you don’t remember, a metaphor, according to Reedsy, is “a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two, unlike things. It does this by stating that Thing A is Thing B.” A simile compares things, usually with as or like.

Filmmakers carefully construct image systems similar to how writers use motifs in fiction: with color, placement, sound, or emblematic imagery. They are used to subtly manipulate the emotional state of the viewer.

This is clip art and not a photo of Jane, Lakin, or me.

Take the time to add these skills to your writer’s toolbox because they will help you become an emotional master.

Source: Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery | Jane Friedman

I have a strong bias against the term “wordsmithing” because it’s often used to imply that a writer is like a mechanic who simply tunes up a story or an article that needs help–like there’s no art in the process. Nonetheless, this post from Jane Friedman’s site has some good ideas for those of us who are constantly trying to improve our stories, essays, and articles.

This post includes a fair number of examples that show just how “creative imagery” is used. C. S. Lakin does a good job with this post, one that veterans and emerging writers alike can read for fresh inspiration.

I find that these how-to posts remind me of techniques I learned a long time ago but haven’t actively thought about for years. They’re kind of a jump start.

Malcolm

 

 

We’re saying goodbye to the natural world

I think many poets, myself included, are struggling with how to keep writing in the face of the environmental degradation that is looming over us and our children, the beauties and seasons that will be lost, the diversity of flowers and trees and butterflies and fish. These are in danger of vanishing before the words for them do. Poetry is extremely hardy—it was around before the alphabet and will outlast many kinds of human technology. I am robustly optimistic about poetry, but that is maybe the only thing I am optimistic about.

I think a lot about Richard Wilbur’s “Advice to a Prophet”: “Whether there shall be lofty or long-standing / When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.” So much of our language is rooted in the old seasons, and in a miraculous natural world. It is terrifying to think that the language will outlast some of these. On the other hand, I suppose there will be new metaphors, and the poets of the future will find a way forward. – A. E. Stallings

Should writers be political? I think the answer is “yes,” though in many countries being political results in a death sentence or life imprisonment. Each of us does this in our own way. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s hard to ignore the slings and arrows of fads, bad government, and horrible business decisions. However, many of our potential readers say they’re tired of logging on to Facebook and other services, much less the news sites, and seeing a continuous flow of bad news.

I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time, so Stalling’s words resonate with me. My response in my fiction has usually been to celebrate the natural world. Perhaps this is not enough. It appears that more people want to celebrate suburbia than the world as it was created. So, how do writers approach that point of view?

Many writers have focused on climate change. Yet readers seem to think such works are “over the top” and that climate change either isn’t happening, isn’t caused by humankind, or that the worst scenarios won’t play out for hundreds of years. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say how soon the Earth’s environment will collapse. But we’ve been warned, I think. The least writers can do is celebrate the environment and have their fictional characters worry about global chaos.

The best we can do, perhaps, is allowing our characters the opportunity of expressing the kinds of fears we have. This way, we’re not beating our readers over the head with politics and activism. We’re telling stories in which folks have the same worries many of us have. I doubt that most people read stories that sound like a list of the political arguments of the day.  So, unless we have a seriously hardy theme, we need to be careful about how political we are.

Our readers want stories, not political tracts. Yet, we can inject our opinions if we are careful about how we do it.

Malcolm

Still an Addict After All These Years

I’m still addicted to cigarettes even though I haven’t smoked one in over twenty years. Maybe longer. I know the addiction is still there because I often want one.

Years ago, there was a joke in which a guy asked a woman if she smoked after sex. Her answer was, “I never looked.”

The trouble with addictions is this: they get linked to all kinds of things. A lot of people lit a cigarette after sex, when they picked up the telephone, when they sat down to write, when they went out onto the church steps after a funeral, went in a bar, when they got in the car, so all those things (and more) became associated with smoking. And, like post-hypnotic suggestions, all those cues are just as strong now as they were when I quit (finally).

I started smoking in graduate school and started smoking more when I was in the Navy where cigarettes we cheap after the ship got outside U.S. waters (no taxes). We were told, years ago, that quitting smoking was harder than getting off hard drugs. That seemed like BS at the time, so I didn’t believe them. The thing was if we ever ran out of cigarettes, the angst was just as strong as a person on hard drugs who was looking for a fix. That should have told us something.

Having cigarettes on hand at all times was more important than anything else. When I lived in northern Illinois and couldn’t get my car out of the snowy driveway, I walked five blocks for a pack of cigarettes. That should have told me something.

I smoked when I had pneumonia and when I had horrible colds. That should have been a learning experience as well.

Quitting took a long time. Most attempts failed. What worked was smoking lighter-weight cigarettes over a period of time until I was buying brands that were pretty much like inhaling air. Then I got a bad cold, and when the cold went away, I was done with smoking. Basically, I wish smoking wasn’t a bad thing and that second-hand smoke didn’t annoy everyone else or get in my clothes and my hair so that I smell like a campfire. See, smoking is a constant temptation.

Nowadays, relatively few characters in movies and TV shows smoke. So, I find it almost shocking to watch an old movie in which everyone smokes. Those were the days when the guy put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit both of them, and handed one to his best girl. Hell, I remember doing that. I wish I didn’t.

Willie, a character in my Florida Folk Magic Series smokes Kools.  I never liked those–or any other menthol cigarette–but I still feel like lighting up a Marlboro when I write those scenes. My wife, however, is highly allergic to cigarette smoke. That’s all the reason NOT to buy a pack of cigarettes and light one “on special occasions.” I still want to, and that bothers me.

When we were young and thought we would live forever, too much booze and too many cigarettes were an extravagance we thought we could indulge in for a few years and then go back to a “normal life.” We were wrong.

There are still some places where employees go outside the front doors of their offices for smoke breaks. That means customers must walk through a cloud of smoke to go inside. I think smokers should have to stand farther away from the front door. Nonetheless, I still want to ask if I can bum a smoke.

What would I do if I could go back and “do it all over again”? The same thing, I think. Some of us just seem to have addictive personalities. Raleigh brand cigarettes used to have a coupon program, causing many of us to say we were saving up our coupons for an iron lung. Yes, we called cigarettes “cancer sticks.” We knew we were potentially doomed and we didn’t care. Is that crazy, or what?

Malcolm