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

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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

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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

 

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