Category Archives: authors

Poll – why do you like self-publishing (if you do)

Standard

I’m curious why so many writers go directly into self-publishing rather than trying to find a traditional publisher or an agent first. How do you feel about it?

Note, with a mainstream publisher, you don’t pay for editing or cover design and you may have a shot at major review sites and interviews that are difficult for self-published authors to get.

Advertisements

We’ve been lucky with our audiobook narrators

Standard

Actually, it’s not all luck. Since my hearing is terrible, the publishers’ skills in selecting prospective readers, listening to reading samples taken from the text of the books, and negotiating costs and schedules are more important than the luck. My audiobooks are available on Audible and Amazon. Those are good places to check out if you’re looking for your first audiobook. Or, you can go to the primary publication covering the market, AudioFile. In addition to industry information and profiles of narrators, they also publish reviews. What you want to look for there are reviews in the books have been designated as Earphones Award Winners. Those not only have a great story but a great narrator (also called a reader).

The audio edition of my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat has a wonderful narrator with lots of presence in her voice and style, that I wasn’t surprised when “AudioFile” liked her work and awarded her with a pair of red earphones in the review. Wanda J. Dixon turned in what, in the movies, would have been an Oscar-winning performance.

She went past the call of duty. . .

“AudioFile” Review

Wanda J. Dixon’s warmth and gorgeous singing voice are superb in this story about Conjure Woman Eulalie, which is told through the voice of her cat and spirit companion, Lena. Dixon zestfully portrays Eulalie, who is “older than dirt” and is kept busy casting spells, mixing potions, and advising people–that is, when the “sleeping” sign is removed from her door. Most distinctive is Eulalie’s recurring sigh, which conveys her frustration with Florida in the 1950s, when Jim Crow laws and “Colored Only” signs were routine. Dixon’s Lena is fully believable when she spies around town and reports to Eulalie that rednecks have raped and murdered a young woman. They almost escape until Eulalie persuades a witness to come forward. Listeners will marvel at the magical realism in this story and benefit from the helpful glossary of the charming local dialect. S.G.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine [Published: SEPTEMBER 2016]

And then, there’s Emily. . .

The first book of mine to come out in an audio edition was Emily’s Stories. (The e-book and paperback editions are out of print, but I’m happy to say that the audio edition narrated by actress Kelley Hazen is still available). It was strangely wonderful to hear (to the extent that I can) the voice of an actress I’d seen in movies and television reading my lines. “AudioFile” liked the book but didn’t award it with a pair of red earphones. That surprised me because the narration is spot on with multiple tones of voice for the different characters, including a bird and a ghost.

 

“AudioFile” Review

Kelley Hazen’s spirited delivery enhances Campbell’s descriptive writing in these three stories about 14-year-old Emily Walters. “High Country Painter” present a talkative Emily and a realistic-sounding bird that directs Emily to magically draw obstacles to divert a grizzly bear. In “Map Maker,” Emily meets an eerie-sounding ghost who helps her save a sacred forest from developers. In “Sweetbay Magnolia,” Hazen captures Grandma Walters’s elderly voice as well as her persistence and wit to perfection. Young listeners will enjoy hearing Emily explain about TMI–too much information. Hazen’s skill at creating believable bird and ghost voices adds to the listening pleasure. S.G.B. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine [Published: DECEMBER 2017]

And that’s not all. . .

The second book in my Florida Folk Magic Trilogy, Eulalie and Washerwoman, was wonderfully narrated Tracie T Elice Christian. We’re currently in audiobook production for Lena, the final novel in the trilogy. An early satire of mine, Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire is, sad to say, out of print. However, the audiobook, with R. Scott Adams providing the realistic narration is alive and well on Amazon.

If you’re heading out on a long trip, maybe you should grab up several of these to relieve you of the boredom of hours and hours of clouds outside your aircraft or the trash trees and sagebrush outside your car window. Of course, it’s still legal to listen to audiobooks in your hot tub or recliner.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Briefly Noted: ‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean

Standard

“A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most peculiar book was written with that kind of crazy courage–the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.” – Susan Orlean

Publisher’s Description

“On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, ‘Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.’ The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?”

Assessment

If you Google this fire, you will find many pictures that are sad to see because they show the mess fire, smoke, and water make of books. The images I saw are copyrighted, so I can’t show them here. Frankly, in reading Orlean’s book, I was surprised at the number of damaged books that were saved, many by a long process of removing the moisture from the sodden pages. In many of the older books that escaped the fire and water, the smell of smoke still lingers.

Main Los Angeles Library – Wikipedia Photo

You can also learn on the Internet that even though there was an arson suspect who couldn’t (or didn’t want to) keep his own alibi straight, there was never enough evidence for an indictment. While the book delves into the stories of that suspect, it’s difficult to read The Library Book with this lingering lack of closure about an unsolved crime. If this book were fiction, let’s say a whodunnit, the author would be criticized for the failure of the characters to solve the crime and bring the perpetrator to justice. The lack of closure creates within this book a lack of focus. That is, the book wanders a bit.

Nonetheless, the book is well written and demonstrates Orlean’s long-time and well-known talents for interviewing people and finding out what makes them tick. I worked in the college libraries at the universities I attended, so I share Orlean’s love of the library and, as such, see this book as not only the history of an important U.S. library but as a love letter to libraries and those who manage them.

Oddly, the fire–and the public’s support of the library after the fire, and seven years later when the main library reopened–might have saved the historic building. The building had for years been discussed as out of date and too small, along with having inadequate fire repression methods. So, a new wing was built and the old building remains, more vibrant and busy than before. If you love libraries, and especially if you have worked in libraries, you will probably enjoy this book. I did.

A Personal Note

I cannot bring myself to feel that, as an author, I am brave in any way for writing novels I hope people will read. More likely, I am foolish, for such a small percentage of books, including those from major publishers ever succeed in finding enough readers to support the publisher’s and author’s investment. Nonetheless, writing is typical of me, just one more example of my impractical life’s focus.

I never expect Hollywood or the New York Times to call and request either a film option or an interview. I have always expected more of my personal friends and online friends to read the books, but to the extent, they read novels at all, they choose the bestsellers from major publishers as a sure thing. Novels are different than other businesses in which community support often favors the local store rather than the chain. Buy local! But that seldom applies to books. The nursery, pharmacy, tire store, restaurant, and the grocery store expect my support, but they don’t buy my books. That’s a sad thing, I think, but when I read a book like this one, I have faith and hope that somebody, somewhere will ultimately find the stories I have to tell.

Susan Orlean has given us all a very memorable story and I appreciate it.

Malcolm

 

 

Reminding Readers About Your Previous Books on Facebook

Standard

When a small-press or self-published author announces a new book on Facebook, s/he has a reason for posting information about it. When early reviews come in, there’s an opportunity for more posts. So, too, later on if the book is a finalist or a winner in a competition. Giveaways and book sales also help get the word out.

But once a book is several novels or poetry collections into the past, it becomes more difficult to think of relevant things to say that don’t sound like SPAM.

My publisher, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, has helped fix that problem by creating Facebook cover pictures that display all of an author’s titles. Sometimes the book covers are arranged with an interesting background; sometimes they appear on shelves. These covers can sit at the top of an author’s profile or page for weeks or months, keeping previous titles in the public eye during times when there’s no legitimate news to post about the older titles. Or, as in Melinda Clayton’s cover photo, you can use a quotation from an earlier book.

Here’s the batch for the holidays for Malcolm R. Campbell, Smoky Zeidel, Robert Hays, Sharon Heath, and Melinda Clayton:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Advice from Isabel Allende

Standard

“So how do writers make sense of it all? Observe. Take notes. Question your own assumptions. Recognize the struggles of people around you, acknowledge your struggles, and be generous to both. In Allende’s words, “If we listen to another person’s story, if we tell our own story … we realize that the similarities that bring us together are many more than the differences that separate us.”

Source: Isabel Allende’s National Book Awards Speech: Writing Advice – The Atlantic

Isabel Allende has become the first Spanish-language writer to receive an honorary National Book Award medal. In her acceptance speech, which you’ll find covered in “The Atlantic” at the link above, she talks about how being constantly uprooted has not only impacted the themes in much of her fiction but her approach to writing itself.

“As a stranger … I observe and listen carefully. I ask questions, and I question everything. For my writing, I don’t need to invent much; I look around and take notes. I’m a collector of experiences,” she said.

That’s how writers–and perhaps almost everyone–make sense of moving to new towns, travel experiences, and the political and cultural upheavals of the times in which they live.  As the author of “The Atlantic” article, Rosa Inocencio Smith puts it, Allende’s speech “functions almost as a step-by-step guide for responding to such existential uncertainties. Surrounded by people with infinitely varied lives, writers, she advised, need not feel the pressure of making up stories from scratch. Confronted with problems in their plots or psyches, they can use their skills of observation to gain understanding.”

I like the advice, the article, and the speech itself (which you’ll find linked to the article).

Malcolm

This is a great time for writing by women – so why are we still considered second-rate?

Standard

“Do men learn from women? Often. Do they admit it publicly? Rarely, even today. Let’s stick to literature. No matter how hard I try, I can’t think of many male writers who have said that they were in any way indebted to the work of a woman writer.”

Source: This is a great time for writing by women – so why are we still considered second-rate? | Life and style | The Guardian

This essay by Elena Ferrante asks timely questions: are male writers ever influenced by female writers? When a male writer likes a female writer’s book, does he think it’s “good for a female writer” or good with the arena of all books?

Personally, I don’t see fiction or nonfiction written by women as second-class work. Apparently, a lot of people do–and perhaps some publishers and bookstores as well. What a shame.

–Malcolm

P.S. Click here to enter my GoodReads giveaway for a paperback of “Lena,” the third novel in the Florida Folk Magic trilogy.

 

Stories – Knowing what to leave out

Standard

“You need emotion to make a story compelling. But every story is really just a sequence of events that need to be told in the right order. Extraneous information slows a story down and can have people wondering about the ultimate point. It’s like telling a joke: You don’t go on detours about what the chicken was doing for the last three weeks before it crossed the road. You tell only the parts that propel the joke forward. The same applies to storytelling.” – Art of Charm

Campfires draw storytellers and audiences like moths to flames. The forest primeval, moon and stars, unknown animals hiding in the darkness, wind soughing through the trees, branches that snap, cries of birds, isolation from well-lit, safe, and civilized places, all these combine into a natural arena for the telling of tales.

If you read through sites like the Art of Charm, you’ll find many tips for telling a captivating story (with or without the campfire), including understanding that “Every story has an emotional core, and that emotional core is how the storyteller feels about the events they’re describing. Everything else is just window dressing.”

Don’t Duplicate Reality

Ineffective storytellers and those who can’t seem to tell a joke properly often think more is more. They not only put into too much window dressing but tell you how the windows were made and installed. The result is tedious because it’s not really a story, it’s a transcript.

While short passages of transcript-like, step-by-step narration can add impact, they usually destroy impact. They have all the excitement of a 24-hour webcam. The author and the storyteller must determine what’s not essential, what destroys the pacing, that dilutes the excitement and the fear and the derring-do.

Writing guidebooks frequently use the examples showing the difference between a recording of a real-life conversation and the same conversation as distilled by an author or a storyteller (because amateurs frequently believe that duplicating real life is the best way to convey a realistic story). While some say our lives are large-order stories, slices of life are not stories. For one thing, the reader/audience cannot spend the same amount of time reading or hearing a story as the same event took to unfold in front of that 24-hour webcam. Yes, you can say the webcam footage is real. But here’s the thing: real isn’t a story.

The successful author and captivating campfire storyteller will leave out most of that the webcam shows–or what their memories of the actual events they witnessed can recall. If you’re a reporter writing for a daily newspaper, you’ll take the most important moments of that webcam footage or that memory and put them first. Then you follow that up with increasingly minor details. That style is called the inverted pyramid because the most important stuff comes first.

Efficiently Moving from Beginning to End

The storyteller and the author do the exact opposite. They place the most important stuff at–or near the end–of their story or novel. As the story unfolds, the writer and the storyteller are very conscious about going from beginning to end in a dramatic way whether the story is driven by the plot or by a character. When thinking about what to leave in or leave out, the key is: does this fact, conversation, description, or thought propel the story forward? If not, it doesn’t belong there because it’s more transcript than art.

When a good editor says, “you need to tighten this up,” s/he means that the writer didn’t leave out enough of the stuff s/he should have left out and/or that even the important sentences are filled with extra words. When the Art of Charm says that the storyteller’s feelings about the story art important, we can take this advice in many ways. One way is that if the writer or storyteller doesn’t care, then neither will the readers or campfire audience. Another way is that when the writer or storyteller cares a lot, s/he will find it easier to pinpoint which “extra” scenes, descriptions, and dialogue weaken the tale-telling experience.

Knowing what to leave out is a true part of the art and craft of keeping the reader’s and listener’s participative attention.

Malcolm