Enjoying another Robert Galbraith Novel

Troubled Blood (2020), at over 900 pages, will take me a while to finish. But that’s good. I enjoy the series about an old-style private detective who doesn’t solve cases by hacking into traffic cams, bank accounts, or FBI databases. Instead, we have stakeouts, interviews, following suspects, and a lot of experience on the resume of British Detective Cormoran Strike. If you know the novels by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and P. D. James, you’ll have an idea of how Strike works.

This is the fifth book in the series that began with The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013 and that will continue this August with The Ink Black Heart. The books are long, well-written, and credible within the genre. By now, everyone who reads these books knows that Galbraith is J. K. Rowling’s pseudonym. She got panned for The Casual Vacancy in 2013, mainly because readers expected something magical like the Harry Potter series. I liked the novel a lot.

But after that experience, I can understand why she would want to start fresh–as she said with no expectations–with the Galbraith pen name for her detective series. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to do it because her lawyer’s office spilled the beans, although in what was supposed to be a private conversation. She sued and the lawyer was fined.

I’ve read all the books in the series but one. I plan to keep reading when the next installment comes out in August. Several of the books have become movies, though I haven’t seen them.

Publisher’s Description for Troubled Blood

Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough—who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.
 
Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.
 
As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

Typical of Rowling, the Robert Galbraith website will tell you everything you want to know (and then some) about the series.

Malcolm

another guilty pleasure: Patterson and Parton

Little, Brown and Company has announced that internationally beloved entertainer Dolly Parton has teamed up with the world’s bestselling author, James Patterson, to write a new book. “Run, Rose, Run,” Dolly’s first-ever novel, will be published March 7, 2022. An album of the same name, consisting of twelve original songs by Dolly, will be released in conjunction with the book. The novel also includes lyrics to the songs, which are essential to the story. This dual release will mark the first time a #1 bestselling author and an entertainment icon who has sold well over 100 million albums worldwide have collaborated on a book and an album. – Dolly’s Website

Of course I’m going to read this. Then I’ll put it on my guilty pleasures bookshelf.

Shocked? Listen, I know you think I spend my days reading James Joyce, Virgina Woolf, Proust, and Baudelaire. I do, but never on Sunday.

I’m a fan of James Patteron’s Alex Cross series that began in 1993 with Along Came a Spider and continues with Patterson as the sole author for 29 books to Fear No Evil released in November of last year. According to Wikipedia, Alex Cross is an African American detective and psychologist based out of the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. He started in the homicide division of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC), but eventually becomes a Senior Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Cross returns to private psychology practice, but continues to work with the police as needed, ultimately rejoining the MPDC as a special consultant to the Major Case Squad.

If I were going to join the FBI, I would love a resume like that. And if I did join the FBI or the CIA, I would tell you that I didn’t.

There are some other guilty pleasure books hidden in my closet that I generically refer to as “grocery store books.” The angst of the plots and characters pulls me away from the angst of daily life and makes it much easier to do my own work without a lot of Xanax.

As for Run, Rose, Run, it will be fun because–up until my hearing disappeared, I was a Dolly Parton fan. Great voice and the nerve to say, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

Malcolm

Today’s Depot Cafe Blog talks about my work in progress:

‘What a pity she’s quoted more than she’s read’

The headline writer for the 2015 article “From literary heavyweight to lifestyle brand: exploring the cult of Joan Didion” added the following subhead: “The pioneer of New Journalism is used to sell biker jackets and clutch bags. What a pity she’s quoted more than she’s read.”

The White Album: Essays by [Joan Didion]I  hope the subhead for her December 23rd obituary in The Guardian more accurately describes how she will be remembered: “Detached observer of American society and political life through her collections of journalism, novels and screenwriting.”

Yet, the fact that the proponent of the New Jounalism wrote more “I-was-there” nonfiction than fiction may be the reason I seldom saw any gushing statements on the social media from her fans about reading her latest article or book, or breathlessly waiting for her next one.

Even those who simply scanned her work and then quoted from it thought her prose–and the no-nonsence focus behind it–was the best in the business.

If you have neither read her nor quoted her, I hardly know where to start in recommending a place to start learning who she was. Perhaps, the novel A Book of Common Prayer and perhaps the collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

If you truly get this quote from A Book of Common Prayer, then you understand (a fraction, perhaps) of herself and her focus: “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.”

But then I’m biased. I’ve followed her work from the day she started. If a cult surrounds her, I’m a member. And when I think of prose and want to show others examples of what prose can do, I turn to her books before all others.

Malcolm

Florida Folk Magic Stories: Novels 1-4 by [Malcolm R. Campbell]Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four-book Florida Folk Magic Series, available in one Kindle, money-saving volume. It’s about the place I don’t walk away from.

Some authors are getting sloppy with their point of View, and the sad thing is, they don’t even know it

Third-Person Limited: This POV is characterized by the use of “he” or “she” and the character’s name, as in, “John hated math. He hated it immensely.” Unlike third-person omniscient, the third limited spends the entirety of the story in only one character’s perspective, sometimes as if looking over that character’s shoulder and sometimes going inside the character’s mind, and the events are filtered through that character’s perception (though less directly than first-person singular). – Jane Friedman

I write in third person restricted (limited) most of the time and tend to like novels that also use this POV. (Jane Friedman–in the link above–lists points of view, how the function, and the pros and cons of each.) I feel like I should e-mail this link to some of my favorite authors because they cheat, knowingly or unknowingly, when they write in third person restricted. I’m not sure how their editors miss it,

Fortunately–for those of us who are purists–these authors don’t include the thoughts of other characters (unless they alternate the POV chapter by chapter–which is okay). Usually it’s something small, done to keep the reader reading.

Let’s say the main character is named “Bob.” This means that if Bob doesn’t see it or hear it or learn about it from another person, readers can’t know about it.

What I see most often is something like this:

Bob closed and locked the front door to his house, fired up the fishing car he used when following bad guys, and drove down third street toward the waterfront. He didn’t see the dark figure standing in the woods across the street.

This is when I want to shout OBJECTION and hear the judge say SUSTAINED, followed by, “The reader will disregard the dark figure across the street.”

If Bob didn’t see the dark figure, s/he can’t be in the book. This is a cheap trick authors use to tip off the reader that the main character is being watched/followed.

I also see this:

Bob watched the Benton house on a dark night with a cold moon. They did normal Benton things, cooked hamburgers on their Weber grill, watched the TV news, and went to bed early. They didn’t know this was the last night of their lives.

Oh, so Bob is a psychic is he? Well, that should have been established earlier in the story. If he’s not a psychic, then this sentence can’t be in the book.

I want to shout OBJECTION, NO FOUNDATION and hear the judge say SUSTAINED, followed by, “The reader will disregard the motion that one or more of the Bentons is about to kick the bucket.”

Sure, we all know why the author did this. Even though we know, we also know that it’s unnecessary. It’s a cheap trick that’s supposed to ramp up the suspense by killing the suspense.

We need better editors.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series, featuring a cat, a conjure woman, and things that go bump in the night

 

 

the gods conspire

Many writers speak of the joy of writing, how the day is not complete unless they can sit down and work on their latest story, how they would write if nobody knew they wrote, how writing completes them like icing on a cake. Most writers also know that even on the best of days, the gods conspire to defeat their best efforts, or cause mischief, or add a few roadblocks where logic says there should be none.

The writer’s first duty is, perhaps, not getting so frustrated when the gods conspire that s/he comes to a point where s/he can no longer write. At the same time, it’s considered bad form for a writer to complain in public, so other than having a sympathetic and patient spouse, writers seldom have anyone willing to listen to their frustrations.

When I think of my own frustrations about major publishers and reviewers, I remember my college writing instructor Michael Shaara’s frustrations. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1974 novel The Killer Angels. Even so, most people never heard of it until after the movie based on the novel was released in 1993 five years after Shaara died of a heart attack at 59. Then reviewers started saying The Killer Angels was the best civil war book ever written. I can’t help but think how the gods conspire when he never heard that or saw that readers finally discovered his work.

But that’s not the half of it. His best novel The Rebel in Autumn, written prior to The Killer Angels, never found a publisher in his lifetime. Written about the protests of the 1960s, it was (perhaps) too current for publishers to accept. Like his baseball novel For The Love of the Game, which became a Kevin Costner film in 1999, Rebel was published through the influence of his children Jeff and Lila (both are authors) posthumously in 2013.

I doubt it does an author any good to have some close friend say, “You feel unappreciated now, but after you’re dead, people will love your work.” When the gods conspire, they love this scenario. Loners at Florida State University in the 1960s–myself included–were drawn to Shaara as a kindred spirit. We all felt out of place and we talked about this between classes at a spot that served decent coffee and didn’t mess with while you used to booth without paying rent. We all knew what the gods did and we all felt that one day our numbers would be up.

So, The Rebel in Autumn doesn’t surprise me as a novel (other than how good it is and how wrong the rejecting publishers were) because we talked about protest, the war, the establishment government, most people over 30, the political vicissitudes of a university, and the survival of the nation. The novel was and is about our shared experience, our common worries, and our frustrations with the absurdities of our daily lives.

I do not feel comfortable reviewing my mentor’s novel, but I can say that I share his frustrations about the lack of good sense of major agents and publishers. 

–Malcolm

Glacier Park Novel – Audiobook Edition

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

 

 

Facebook author’s page – an invitation

You are hereby and herewith, &c. invited to stop by my Facebook author’s page. I change the header from time to time, but right now it looks like this:

As you can see by the graphic, the page mentions my work. Yet, it is by no means a giant advertisement.

In fact, most posts focus on publishing news, author interviews, upcoming titles, book reviews, opinions and criticism, writing tips, genres, and book news that provide you with a snapshot of the latest activities from the world of books. I usually post about five links a day so that visitors can quickly scan the page to see if there’s anything that leaps out and grabs their attention.

Sure, I also have a Facebook profile, but it’s personal stuff, weird memes, pictures of kitties, general news, and other typical stuff that friends want to see. Most of the book world information is on my author’s page.

I hope to see you there.

Malcolm

I was happy to see that the first reviewer of the new “Fate’s Arrows” audiobook was happy with the story and the narrator’s presentation.

 

 

Discovering ‘The G-String Murders’ by Gypsy Rose Lee

The tall bookshelf on the righthand side of our living room fireplace was either magic or was monitored by my parents who put books there–from some hidden trove–during my junior high and high school years when I was deemed ready to read them.

One of these was a small book in a plain brown dustjacket written for young men who were old enough to learn how sex was accomplished. I read it in my bedroom and then put it back on the tall bookshelf from which it soon disappeared until it was time for the middle brother to read it. I have no idea what the book was called or when it was published. In general, the words and illustrations were more accurate and of higher literary quality (less profane, too) than the information written on the restroom stalls in the men’s bathrooms at school.

I still have the second book that appeared about the time the movie “Gypsy” was released in 1962. When I didn’t return it to the tall shelf, nobody mentioned it. It appeared after the book about how to have sex, though I didn’t need a set of instructions to enjoy Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1941 detective novel The G-String Murders. I liked the book. I still do. And I think she wrote it or wrote most of it in spite of the fact various people think somebody else wrote it.

It’s set in a burlesque theater with a narrator named Gypsy. According to teacher and scholar Maria DiBattista, “The book is still readable today for its brisk, sometimes witty, and unapologetically randy account of the personal and professional jealousies, the routines and props (the grouch bags, pickle persuaders, and, of course, G-strings), even the substandard plumbing common to a life in burlesque.” 

Letters that Lee sent to Simon and Schuster while she was writing the novel tend to prove that she wrote it rather than W. H. Auden, Craig Rice, and other suspects. The book is still in print.

Amazon Description

Lee – Wikipedia Photo

“Narrating the twisted tale of a backstage double murder, Gypsy Rose Lee, the queen of the striptease, provides a tantalizing glimpse into the underworld of burlesque theatre in 1940s America. When one performer is found strangled with a G-string, no one is above suspicion. A host of clueless coppers face off against the theatre’s tough-talking guys and dolls, and when a second murder occurs, it’s clear that Gypsy and her cohorts will have to crack the case themselves. A dazzling and wisecracking murder mystery noir that was the basis of the 1943 film Lady of Burlesque, starring Barbara Stanwyck.”

In part, I think it’s the movie (inspired by her memoir Gypsy: A Memoir) “Gypsy” with Natalie Wood and this novel that keep Gypsy Rose Lee’s name from fading out of the public’s consciousness. After all, burlesque is long gone. She lived between 1911 and 1970. In her later years, she appeared here and there including “Hollywood Squares.” In 2010, novelist Karen Abbott released the novel “American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee” to high acclaim.

So, Gypsy is still here one way or another, and that first edition copy isn’t leaving my shelf.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Do as Diana Gabaldon does, not as I do

Those of us who were members of the former CompuServe Literary Forum witnessed the birth of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. She uploaded snippets of the work in progress, encouraged discussions about them, and later when she became a successful author continued to support the forum and answer our questions about the art and craft and business of writing novels. Her gracious support of other writers included her writing a blurb for my novel The Sun Singer.

In our craft discussions, she and I disagreed on one thing. And that was, should the author stop writing while completing a gap in the research, or should s/he continue writing and fill in the correct information later?

She said: “Keep writing.” I said: “Stop writing.”

She argued that when the author was on a roll, stopping to fill in historical or other information would simply derail the flow of the novel and the author’s daily writing process.

I argued that writing while something is still unknown could very well send the novel down the “wrong road” and necessitate a lot of needless rewriting later.

She preferred to put a “placeholder” in the manuscript, reminding her that she still had some facts to verify before submitting the book to her agent.

I preferred (and still prefer) to know the facts–whether they apply to history, geography, customs, or whatever–before I write the next scene or chapter.

It goes without saying that her Outlander series of books–and their spinoffs–have been infinitely more successful than my novels. So, I suggest you follow her advice and keep putting words down on the page even if you’re not finished verifying your information.

The fact that I’m eight years older than Diana doesn’t mean that I have more wisdom. It simply means that I’m eight years more set in my ways. I’ll freely admit that as I continue pausing my writing while checking my facts.

If you’re not set in your ways, putting a placeholder in our MS is probably the smart thing to do until you have time to look up what you still need to lookup.

Malcolm

My novel-in-progress, “Weeping Wall,” sat for several months while I verified the geological information I needed in the first paragraph.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author to return after 16-year gap

Sixteen years after readers were introduced to the magical world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke is to publish her second novel.

Source: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author to return after 16-year gap | Books | The Guardian

Her first novel seemingly came out of nowhere, sold four million copies, and then she was silent except for a short piece linked to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I can absolve 2020 for some of its crimes because of the upcoming publication of Piranesi.

Publisher’s Description

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Personally, I classify this book for lovers if magic and fantasy as a book not to be missed.

–Malcolm

‘A Distant Flame’ – the second time through

I purchased my copy of this novel about the battle of Atlanta in 2005 when author Philip Lee Williams gave a reading in my small NE Georgia town. He signed the copy, but since the novel had won the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction, he was more interested in my memories of Shaara as my creative writing teacher than talking about the book. I see that I gave the book a positive review on Amazon.

The book is somewhat haunting for a Georgia resident to read simply because the battles happened in the small towns between where I live now and Atlanta–and I’ve visited some of the battle locations.  I-75 carries motorists past sites where thousands were killed. It’s more haunting now because there is so much violence and unrest in the country in addition to the ills of the pandemic.

From the Publisher

In the spring of 1864, the Confederate Army in Georgia is faced with the onrushing storm of General William T. Sherman’s troops. A young sharpshooter for the South, Charlie Merrill, who has suffered many losses in his life already, must find a way to endure—and grow—if he is to survive the battles that will culminate in July at the gates of Atlanta.

From the opening salvos on Rocky Face Ridge near Dalton, through the trials of Resaca and Kennesaw Mountain, Charlie must face the overwhelming force of the Federal army and a growing uncertainty about his place in the war.

Never before has the Atlanta Campaign been rendered—in all its swift and terrible action—with such attention to history or with writing that reaches the level of art. This crucial episode in the Civil War’s western theater comes alive with unexcelled power and drama as it unfolds in soldiers’ hands and hearts.

Throughout the course of the novel, Charlie’s life is laid out in powerful detail. The experiences from his childhood, through the war, and into his twilight years are to a great extent on his mind half a century later when he is to give a major speech in the park of his small Georgia town

A Distant Flame is a book about the cost of war and the running conflict that led Sherman’s Army to the Battle of Atlanta—and the March to the Sea. It stands as a testament to love, dedication, and growth, from the Civil War’s fields of fire to the slow steps of old age.

What impressed me as an author is the fact that Williams made a chart (for research, not to include in the novel) showing where every general and brigade were 24/7 as Sherman moved through North Georgia. I mention this to everyone who says I spend too much time with research.

The novel reads well the second time through, and since it’s been a while since I read it, I don’t remember things just before they happen.

Malcolm