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

 

New website (yeah, I know, I said I was through with them)

My first websites were with Homestead. I especially liked their editor which gave me pinpoint control of everything on the page. At one point, when money was tight, I canceled all that. More recently, my website was hosted by GoDaddy. Not bad, though the editor wasn’t as cool as Homestead’s. Like my old Homestead site, the GoDaddy site had a featured domain name and some add on stuff that raised the price over time until, as I mentioned in this blog before, it just got too danged expensive.

Then, too, changes at Amazon impacted our book sales in a negative way while I was paying $100000000 for cancer radiation treatments and having no luck whatsoever getting another novel up and running. So, goodbye to GoDaddy.

Okay, the novel Fate’s Arrows is finally in the editing/formatting stages and I think it’s going to be okay. So, hello to Homestead again, this time without a unique domain name and a cheaper package. I’m still working on getting bugs, typos, and other glitches out of the site. If you any problems with it, let me know.

Will the site sell books? Maybe a few. Readers seem to expect authors to have websites even though most of an authors’ books aren’t usually sold off the site. Heck, maybe it’s a vanity thing. We’ll see how it goes.

Malcolm

 

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