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.

 

 

 

 

 

Car Shopping for My Characters

Cars are often one indicator of a character in a novel. Black ops characters usually drive something with many tactical advantages in a fight; other characters are often described by their sports cars or family cars, most of which cost more than the readers of the novels make in a year.

In my novel Lena, (set in 1954) I introduced a new character to the Florida Folk Magic Series named Pollyanna. The name made her sound like a spoiled brat who lived at the estate of wealthy parents. In fact, she grew up at a fish camp and knew her way around the business and everything that went with it. She needed a practical vehicle:

This is a 1949 Ford F-1, 1/2-ton Silvertone Grey pickup truck. It was the lowest of the line of Ford F-series trucks made between 1947 and 1952. Perfect for a fish camp, though Pollyanna would have gotten a 3/4-ton F-3 if she could have afforded it. Pollyanna always had a 1935 Smith & Wesson model 27 .357 magnum revolver in the glove box or in a thigh holster.

Since she lives near a small town, everyone recognizes her truck. This  isn’t helpful when she’s spying on bad guys. So, along with a blonde wig, different clothes, etc., she drives the family’s seldom used Blue 1949 Dodge Wayfarer coupe:

oldcaradvetising photo

When I visualize a character, I try to see what kind of car fits who they are. The town storekeeper drives a 1949 2R clover green Studebaker pickup. The Sanctified Church uses a Buick Roadmaster hearse. The fuel hauling company drives an Autocar surplus tanker truck. The police drive Chevrolet Bel Air squads.

Finding the right car for each character is sometimes a thrilling treasure hunt and sometimes an exasperating search when years and models seem to be missing from the Internet.

For me, tracking down cars is a heck of a lot more fun than trying to figure out what kinds of clothes my female characters would be wearing years ago.

–Malcolm

The Kindle edition of Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer is FREE on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating Language Anew

“I am constantly finding ways to create language anew, or to represent spoken tongues.” – Bernardine Evaristo, in an April 2020 interview in The Writer’s Chronicle.”

In 2019, Evaristo was the first black woman to with the Man Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. Vanity Fair wrote last December that the novel was written in “a free-flowing, prose poetry style that she’s dubbed ‘fusion fiction.'”

Many writers struggle with the linear nature of language as we commonly use it, one thing after enough, rather like the way computers have been processing coded instructions prior to the coming age of quantum computing.

In “real life,” a person might be carrying on a conversation with his neighbor while they cook steaks in the back yard about last night’s football game. Meanwhile, each person is watching the steaks, hearing what the children are doing in the background, wondering about tomorrow’s projects at work, and feeling the pain of several fire ant bites. There’s a lot going on here that’s difficult to convey to the reader if what is shown on the page is a passage of dialogue about the ball game.

One might get around this by using impressionistic techniques (variously abstract and subjective),  intruding into the dialogue with multiple snippets of information in parentheses, by displaying the dialogue in the traditional way and then following it up with omniscient narrator passages that say (essentially) what each character was thinking and aware of while appearing to be devoting his focus completely on the back and forth conversation with his neighbor.

Dan Brown (and many others) have shown simultaneous–or nearly simultaenous events–by writing in a series of short chapters and/or short scenes. This is like saying such and such happened and then adding, “meanwhile back at the ranch.”

My feeling has always been that the closer a writer gets to portraying real events in the true complexity in which they occur, the more likely it is that s/he will end up with material that most readers find unreadable. It’s odd, I think, that while we accept our knowledge of simultaneous thoughts/events/feelings in our own lives without question, we don’t know how to handle that reality when it gets to the page.

When writers, such as Evaristo find new ways of creating language anew that end up being accepted by readers and critics, I very pleased/impressed/jealous. I really don’t like seeing these new ways labelled as “experimental” (as in the Washington Post review snippet below) because that implies that the writer swept up the scanned in the remnants of partial drafts, notes, and ideas from his or her desk, shoved them between covers, and called them a novel. I believe most readers consider something labelled that way believe that the work is not ready to be published yet.

A lot of people–many who’ve never read it–say Finnegans Wake is that kind of novel. It’s one of my favorites. Creating language anew may be–from the writer’s point of view–an experiment to see whether or not a new form and structure approach “works.” When the author decides that it does work, the book leaps out of the laboratory and into commerce and ceases to be an experiment.

I’m a bit biased in favor of “something new) because I’ve always fought editors and English teachers for years about many of my sentence and format constructions. I’ve abandoned tinkering with format because–for example–Kindle cannot handle the multiple columns I saw as one way of showing multiple things happening at once. I wrote an early novel in this format and reviewers called in “experimental” and readers said they couldn’t figure it out.

I probably didn’t help my case when people asked which column they were supposed to read first, and I answered: “it doesn’t matter.” The novel is out of print. And early edition of my contemporary fantasy The Sun Singer had several brief instances of side-by-side columns. They were very short. The print version looked fine. The e-books didn’t; so I displayed the material from the columns in the same old linear way I’ve always been trying to get around in my work.

I  think artists have a better chance of creating acceptable non-linear paintings that show the true nature of reality because the viewer can see and grok the entire painting at once. That’s really not possible with a 100,000-word novel or even a 10,00-word short story. But I want readers to be able to see the scenes in the way they would if each one were a painting. I keep working on it.

As for now: good for you Bernardine.

from the Washington Post

‘Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other…is a breathtaking symphony of black women’s voices, a clear-eyed survey of contemporary challenges that’s nevertheless wonderfully life-affirming… Together, all these women present a cross-section of Britain that feels godlike in its scope and insight…just as crucial to this novel’s triumph is Evaristo’s proprietary style, a long-breath, free-verse structure that sends her phrases cascading down the page. She’s formulated a literary mode somewhere between prose and poetry that enhances the rhythms of speech and narrative. It’s that rare experimental technique that sounds like a sophisticated affectation but in her hands feels instantly accommodating, entirely natural.

Malcolm

 

John Hart delays release of new novel ‘The Unwilling’

John Hart announced on Facebook yesterday that The Unwilling, originally scheduled for release in this June, will be delayed until February of next year. Many fans, including me, are disappointed by this news since we had been looking forward to some wonderful summer reading material.

Unlike many of us who promote our books primarily online with an occasional bricks-and-mortar reading and signing, Hart schedules a book tour for each of his books. The pandemic makes tours impossible now.

Calling the planned book tour for The Unwilling collateral damage to coronavirus, he said, “This was not an easy decision for any of us, but book tour is a huge part of my life – that includes meeting fans and booksellers, raising funds for important charities and doing what I can to support all of the stores that writers and readers value so highly (talk about an essential business!). It is also a necessary part of my life. Writing novels is such a lonesome, isolating affair that I have long considered tour as a needed reinsertion into the human race, a once-in-a-while reminder that life exists beyond the farm and keyboard, the family and close friends.”

His novels are so intense, I can understand his need to get out into the real world every time one is finished and ready for release. We’ll be waiting, Mr. Hart.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

I know Facebook and website gurus are just trying to help, but. . .

Facebook constantly leans on me to add more information to my author’s page. Among other things, they want a street address, a map, office hours, and a phone number. I can’t convince them that authors write from their houses and apartments and sure as hell don’t want anyone calling or stopping by.

I hear similar exhortations from website gurus: “If you don’t have a map showing directions to your place of business, prospective customers won’t take your company seriously.”

For one thing, an author is not a company. For another, do these gurus every look at authors’ websites and see them as no different than hardware stores? Or, are the guru’s really clueless, thinking (I guess) that authors should display addresses, maps, and sets of directions to help readers find their houses?

I just checked Madonna’s website. Her store is on line. My “stores” are bookstores since, like most authors, I don’t have a fulfilment center in the basement (partly because I don’t have a basement), much less a storefront. A lot of people around here sell produce from stands out in front of their houses, but I’m not sure that a “Boiled peanuts, okra, and books” approach would be worth the time.

Noticeably, Madonna doesn’t have a map on her website showing me how to get to her house.

My suggestion–though nobody sought it–is that Facebook and all those website gurus figure out how authors’ pages and sites work instead of advising us to do what is, frankly, stupid. An old joke comes to mind: “Question: What’s an expert.” “Answer: a (has been) drip under pressure.”

Meanwhile, I’m getting urgent messages from my website provider: “Crikey, Malcolm, haven’t you noticed that your whole website’s going down the toilet on February 20th?” I guess the powers that be haven’t noticed that I’ve deleted everything except for a boilerplate home page with alternative URLs for information about my books.

There’s plenty of room for a map to the nearest B&N store. Maybe that will get people off my back.

Malcolm

Fun whodunnits from Coulter and Ellison

If you like police/FBI procedurals that aren’t jammed with weapons/ship/helicopter specifications of the kind you’ll find in the Tom Clancy (and similar) books, may I suggest Catherine Coulter? Her on-going “FBI Thriller” series began in 1996 with The Cove and continues through 23 books to Labyrinth which came out in July.  The also co-writes “A Brit in the FBI Thriller” series with author J. T. Ellison.

I think I’ve read all of the FBI thrillers from the beginning and find them consistent. While some of them include some pretty nasty crimes, they are not gory. They focus on a married couple, Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock who are equally skilled and usually work together on cases. Sherlock is a crack shot and Savich is a computer geek with a search engine called MAX that he uses to help track down the bad guys. He’s also very intuitive, and that adds a nice wrinkle to the stories.

The Brit series features Scotland Yard agent Nicholas Drummond who first appeared in 2013 in The Final Cut.  The most recent book in the series is The Last Second.  As part of a special team, Drummond often finds himself back across the pond helping out in cases originating in the U. K.

I like the original FBI series the best because I’ve been reading it for quite a while and have watched the characters grow and mature and take on new kinds of assignments. A new reader, however, will find the two series similar in style. With few exceptions, the books can be read in any order.

From the Publisher’s Description for Labyrinth

“If there’s one thing that readers can count on in a Coulter novel it is that she always delivers amazingly eerie and complex thrillers” (RT Book Reviews), and Labyrinth is no different. With white-knuckled pacing and shocking twists and turns, this is another electrifying novel that will sink its teeth in you.

From the Publisher’s Description for The Last Second

From New York Times bestselling authors Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison comes a riveting thriller pitting special agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine against a private French space agency that has the power to end the world as we know it.

I’ve enjoyed the original series for years and have found the Brit series equally engaging. Perhaps it’s also your cup of tea.

Malcolm

Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Nickel Boys’ Takes Kirkus Prize for Fiction

Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys evokes race in America not as a concept but as a condition of being. In this modern historical novel, Whitehead exposes the Nickel Academy and the fate of its boys. With profound compassion and the elegance of a skilled craftsman, he reveals the tragedy of our not-too-distant past, which is also the tragedy of our present. Like all classics, the book works on many different levels: a significant social drama, it is direct, accessible and unrelenting both as allegory and as cautionary tale. This is our history. It is our story. – Kirkus Reviews.

Click on graphic for info about Nonfiction and Yong Readers prizes.

 

The Nickel Boys is a powerful and well-written novel, all the more chilling for those of us who grew up in the Florida Panhandle and heard horror stories about the Dozier School on which this story was based. (You can learn more about the Dozier School’s survivors on the White House Boys website.)

Looks like a safe campus, doesn’t it? – Wikipedia graphic

When I reviewed the book, I gave it three stars because I thought Whitehead used a point of view trick to make for a more powerful ending. I thought the trick could have been easily avoided by a simple edit without detracting from the ending of the novel. Since nobody else has mentioned this trick, it’s possible that I misread the section, though I looked at it several times and still thought I was seeing a flaw.

Florida failed its population as well as those sentenced to the Dozier School, some for very minor “infractions.” There were rumors about the school for years, covered over by a code of silence by those involved and others who knew the truth.

This novel helps call attention to the kinds of abuses that were born during the Jim Crow era–I suspect we haven’t found them all.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Potpourri – 11/17/19

 

This space between our house and yard and Lesa’s folks’ former house and the yard is a lot to mow. The fence is there to keep any rogue cattle from trampling septic tank lines in the area.
  • The fatigue caused by the radiation treatments for cancer is slowly starting to dissipate. After supper yesterday, I was finally able to now a big stretch of non-yard grass on our property. I couldn’t have done that a couple of weeks ago. I have a checkup with the oncologist tomorrow–to talk about what, I don’t know. The hormone therapy continues at least into January. It makes it more difficult for the cancer to return. It also keeps us from running the only test that shows the status, if any, of the cancer cells since the hormones mess up (a medical term) the test.
  • If you’re a fan of Native American Author N. Scott Momaday (who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his groundbreaking novel “House Made of Dawn,”) you might enjoy the documentary about him which is airing Monday night on PBS stations. Click here for more information.
  • Even though my physical strength is returning, my muse has yet to reappear. I’m not working on anything except this blog and my website. My short story “Shock Treatment,” which appears in the Tulip Tree Publishing anthology Stories that Need to be Told was written before the cancer treatments began.
  • I’ve added several more excerpts from my novels on my website. Stop by and see if you’re tempted.
  • My wife and I are enjoying the third season of the Netflix series “The Crown.” Rather than ageing their actors as their characters grew older, the producers opted to start season three with a new cast. This was jarring and I wish they hadn’t done it. My wife said, “Well, I thought you’d be happy to see Helena Bonham Carter taking over the role of Princess Margaret.” She was right. I do like the actress and see her as a great match for the feisty, outspoken princess. The segment in which the princess meets the rough-and-tumble, profane President Johnson is wonderful and, I suspect, true.
  • I have high hopes for author Erin Morgenstern’s new novel The Starless Sea. I’m wondering if it will live up to the creativity and wonder of The Night Circus, my favorite novel in 2012.  The novel sort of came out of nowhere like Susanna Clarke’s 2008 novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This was my favorite novel that year. Her next novel, Piranesi, is due out next year. I’ll be waiting for it like a teenager waiting for the latest Harry Potter novel. So, The Starless Sea is on my Christmas list. I’m sure Santa will be obliging because he knows that–like Mary Poppins–I’m practically perfect in every way.
  • Otherwise, I continue to promote my latest novel from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Special Investigative Reporter. I debated coming out with a new release of this novel which was originally published under another name because it’s a departure from my recent magical realism novels and short stories set in the Florida Panhandle. It’s written in a film noir style (my favorite kind of film) about an investigative reporter who doesn’t fit into the current style of today’s journalism. Actually, I don’t either. That’s why I see my Jock Stewart protagonist as my alter ego.

So there it is, the stuff going on in my life. How about you? Are you reading some wonderful novels this weekend?

–Malcolm

 

John le Carré is publishing his twenty-fifth novel

I have always admired John le Carré. Not always without envy – so many bestsellers! – but in wonderment at the fact that the work of an artist of such high literary accomplishment should have achieved such wide appeal among readers. That le Carré, otherwise David Cornwell, has chosen to set his novels almost exclusively in the world of espionage has allowed certain critics to dismiss him as essentially unserious, a mere entertainer. But with at least two of his books, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and A Perfect Spy (1986), he has written masterpieces that will endure.

Source: ‘My ties to England have loosened’: John le Carré on Britain, Boris and Brexit | Books | The Guardian

I admire any author who can endure. I haven’t read all of le Carré’s novels, but a fair few. And, at 87, I think we can say he has endured.

I was in college when I read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I wished that had been one of the novels that we discussed in class, but we were busy talking about novels written a hundred years earlier.

When the cold war with the Soviet Union ended, I wondered what he would do. As it turns out, he had more stories to tell. Since I am not prolific, I admire writers who are prolific and turn out good stuff.

Malcolm

Book Bits: ‘Ninth House,’ Mordicai Gerstein, Leslie Jamison, Quentin Tarantino, Margaret Atwood

Many of my sources for books and authors links for this occasional feature have become politicized and/or issues-oriented. By that I mean, the links support authors and books speaking out about U.S. politics and/or the primary issues of the day. They’re not “bad,” they’re simply more commentary than literature.

In general, I try to avoid those links because I don’t want to appear to have an agenda, nor do I want to get away from the purpose of this blog: in part, providing books and authors readers might find interesting.

  1. Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – “Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story…With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.” Kirkus Reviews.
  2. Obituary: “Mordicai Gerstein, author and illustrator of dozens of works for young readers, among them The Night World, Sleeping Gypsy, and I Am Pan, died September 24. Gerstein provided the artwork for numerous works by other writers, and was awarded the 2004 Caldecott Medal for his picture book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.” Shelf Awareness
  3. Jamison

    Interview: A Conversation Between Leslie Jamison and Kaveh Akbar – “Leslie Jamison makes her life more difficult than it needs to be. In her most recent essay collection, Make it Scream, Make it Burn, the subjects she chooses—the world’s loneliest whale, Second Life devotees, the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia—could carry the pieces with their propulsive novelty alone. Certainly, Jamison is brilliant enough as a sculptor of language that we’d happily oblige her. But what makes Jamison one of the essential essayists of our generation is her rigor. She renders her subjects, the world that made them, and her own gaze all within the same frame.” Paris Review

  4. Quotation: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” ― J.D. Salinger
  5. Books to Film: Tarantino’s Next Big Project Is… a Book About a Guy Who Loves Movies – “Quentin Tarantino may follow through with his plan to stop making movies after his Star Trek one or his horror movie one or Kill Bill 3, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop making other things. The filmmaker will probably shift over to directing plays or extremely long movies that Netflix will awkwardly chop up and pretend are miniseries, or maybe, he’ll just reinvent himself as a novelist—since the guy has already started on a book, apparently.” Vice
  6. Lists: The 10 Best Debut Novels of the Decade – “Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.” Literary Hub
  7. Feature: Book Gallery: Margaret Atwood and Octavia E. Butler – “Few authors get our pulses racing like Margaret Atwood and Octavia E. Butler, and luckily enough, our friends at The Folio Society have just released gorgeous new editions of important works by both.” Flavorwire
  8. Lists: Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Winterson, Lerner, Díaz, Walbert, and More – “Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Jeanette WintersonBen LernerJaquira Díaz, Kate Walbert, and more—that are publishing this week.” The Millions.

Book Bits is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the comedy/satire Special Invetigative Reporter.