Book Bits: Writing tip, the other ‘Fire and Fury,’ Frankenstein, Natasha Trethewey, Rae Paris

There’s so much writing advice on the Internet that I’m often cynical about it, viewing much of it as being like those bottles of patent medicine that used to be sold from the backs of wagons years ago. But sometimes I find something worthy passing along. (See item 1.)

  1. Writing Tip: How to Grow as a Writer, by Eva Deverell – “I firmly believe that as long as you’re willing to put in the work and play the long game, you can improve your writing – just like you can improve any other skill – and grow into a great writer. Here are some areas you might want to focus on…” Eva Deverell
  2. NewsAuthor Of The Other ‘Fire And Fury’ Book Says Business Is Booming, by Ari Shapiro and Kelley McEvers – “Hansen’s book is Fire And Fury: The Allied Bombing Of Germany 1942-1945. The beginning of that title “Fire and Fury” is the same as that of journalist and author Michael Wolff’s new exposé about the Trump administration, Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House.” (Suddenly, it’s selling well.) NPR
  3. EssayMan As God: ‘Frankenstein’ Turns 200, by Marcello Gleiser – “Perhaps Frankenstein’s 200th anniversary should be celebrated with a worldwide effort to build safeguards so that scientific research that attempts to create new life, or to modify existing life in fundamental ways, gets regulated and controlled. This includes CRISPR, a new technology capable of editing and modifying genomes. As with so many scientific developments, it has great promise and the potential for good and evil. At the most extreme, it offers the possibility of modifying the human species as a whole, a sort of final Frankenstein take over.” – NPR
  4. Wikipedia photo

    Interview: Natasha Trethewey: Say It, Say It Again, with Rob Weinert-Kendt – “Poet Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer-winning 2007 collection Native Guard, which partly memorialized an African-American Civil War soldier protecting a Union-captured fort on Ship Island, Miss., was first turned into a stage work in 2014 at the Alliance Theatre. It returns Jan. 13-Feb. 4. Trethewey was U.S. poet laureate from 2012 to 2014.” American Theater

  5. Quotation: “But to speak strictly as a writer, I wouldn’t be where I am if not for independent bookstores. My first book, Drown, stayed alive, and in turn kept my career alive, because independent booksellers continued to put the book in people’s hands long after everyone else had forgotten it. For 11 years, I had no other book and yet indie booksellers kept their faith in me. To them, I owe very much. I’ll definitely be in a lot of indie bookstores on this tour, as many as will have me.” – Junot Díaz in Shelf Awareness
  6. ReviewTHE ALICE NETWORK: The story of a spy, by Kate Quinn, reviewed by Matthew Jackson – “Historical fiction is all about blending the original with the familiar, about those delicate new stitches woven into the tapestry. The best practitioners of this often subtle art can sew those new threads without ever breaking the pattern, until the new and the old, the real and the fictional, are one and the same. With her latest novel, Kate Quinn announces herself as one of the best artists of the genre.” Book Page
  7. Essay: Has Ann Quin’s time come at last? by Jonathan Coe – “The experimental writer, who committed suicide aged 37, was disregarded in her lifetime. But her strange staccato style now seems quite in vogue.” The Spectator
  8. ReviewThe Forgetting Tree: A Rememory, by Rae Paris, Reviewed by Bruce Jacobs – avored with both vulnerable hesitation and uncompromising resolution, poet and essayist Rae Paris’s debut, The Forgetting Tree, is the memoir of a young black woman’s search to understand her personal and racial past. In a journey of backwards migration, Paris leaves her past in the Los Angeles streets south of Compton on a road trip into her family’s roots in New Orleans. From there she crisscrosses the South to uncover the raw truth of slavery, segregation and racism at former plantations, cemeteries, Klan meeting houses, civil rights battlegrounds, lynching trees and graves of both famous and unnamed black ancestors.”  Shelf Awareness

Book Bits is compiled randomly by author Malcolm R. Campbell

Book Bits: Workplace abuse, In memoriam, literary forums,’Wrinkle in Time’ movie, stolen books

It’s getting more and more difficult to talk about books, publishing, and authors without straying into political issues that often have a very polarized reader-base.  Some people believe CNN 100%, while others believe FOX 100%. I’ve more or less stopped posting anything political on my Facebook page because it always ends up with people shouting at each other. Sexual harassment is one of those issues. I mention this here because Publishers Weekly ran into a few snags with a recent article about sexual harassment in our business (Item 1). Maybe they’ll get it sorted out this time.

  1. IssuesLetter from the Editors: Covering Sexual Abuse in the Book Business, By Jim Milliot, Rachel Deahl, and John Maher – “The difficult nature of covering the subject hit home on December 5, when we ran a story announcing the resignation of Giuseppe Castellano, executive art director of Penguin Workshop, following claims of sexual harassment by actress and comedian Charlyne Yi. The article we published was intended to be a balanced account based on verifiable facts. Not everyone agreed that it was. Some readers expressed frustration that we put too much emphasis on Castellano’s account over Yi’s.” Publishers Weekly
  2.  News: Notable Literary Deaths in 2017, by Emily Temple – “This has not been the best year. In addition to, well everything, we lost a number of literary luminaries in 2017: beloved novelists, champions of the written word, legendary editors, and genre-defining journalists.”  Literary Hub
  3. One of the new forums focusing on book and writers.

    News: The Tale of Two Literary Forums, by Malcolm R. Campbell – “If you were out on the Internet in the 1980s, you probably remember that CompuServe was a major ISP, providing e-mail and forums for millions of users. In those days, almost every hi-tech company, whether hardware or software, had a forum staffed in part by representatives of the company to help people with bugs, usage issues, and other information. In addition to these forums, CompuServe also maintained forums for pets, religion, political discussions, hobbies, and literature.” Malcolm’s Round Table

  4. Film: Hollywood’s Once and Future Classic, Hollywood’s Once and Future Classic, Why it took 54 years to turn A Wrinkle in Time into a movie, By Eliza Berman – “A Wrinkle in Time, a Disney movie based on Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel of the same name, will come out on March 9, 2018. The film brings to life the story of Meg Murry, a gangly adolescent who travels across dimensions to rescue her scientist father. Meg is guided by a trio of guardian angels collectively called “the Mrs.” The book, and the movie, is about what it means to be a source of light in a world in which darkness seems only to proliferate. It also makes the case for thinking independently when conformity is the norm.” Time Magazine
  5. Quotation: “When I see a store, I MUST GO IN. I’m a sucker for books, but indie bookstores take that up a few levels because they’ll curate for me. I go in saying I want to learn about some obscure topic and they won’t look at me as if I’m from Mars! Instead it’s almost as if I see my own curiosity reflected back at me, and they share it instantly. I’ve had that same experience happen in multiple cities, so I think it’s common to independent bookstore owners and I love them for it.” – Author Jessee Mecham Shelf Awareness
  6. Review: THE ICE HOUSE – Home is a long way from here, by Laura Lee Smith, reviewed by Thane Tierney – “The Scots didn’t invent stubbornness, but they perfected it, raised it to a high art where irresistible force and immovable object are sometimes locked like two neutron stars in a perilous dance. So it is with American immigrant Johnny MacKinnon and his Scottish son, Corran, in Laura Lee Smith’s second novel, ‘The Ice House.'” Book Page
  7. Lists: The Ultimate Best Books of 2017 List, by Emily Temple – “It’s the end of the year, and everybody has an opinion. And of course, where there’s an opinion, there’s a listicle. The river of Best of 2017 lists can be exhausting this time of year, so as a public service, and because my math skills are always in need of a little exercise, I’ve created a streamlined master list of the books that the most people loved this year.” Literary Hub
  8. News: Cat Person author’s debut book sparks flurry of international publishing deals, by Alison Flood – “Following her viral short story hit, Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This has been sold to Cape in the UK, with the US auction said to be topping $1m.” The Guardian
  9. ReviewLITTLE LEADERS: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison ; illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Age Range: 6 – 12) – “Visual artist Harrison introduces 40 trailblazing black women from United States history in this inspiring volume for young readers…Perfect for exploring together at bedtime or for children to browse independently, a gorgeous invitation for children of all backgrounds, and especially for black girls, to learn about black women who were pioneers.” Kirkus Reviews
  10. News: Indie Bookstores Tell Us About Their Most Stolen Books – Which volumes walk out the door most often, and why? by Jo Lou – “Independent bookstores are magical, endangered places. Stealing from these small, often struggling establishments is a mortal sin and the Book Gods will smite you. If you must kidnap books (which you shouldn’t, because libraries exist) then steal from big box stores instead.” Electic Lit

Book Bits is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of paranormal, contemporary fantasy, and magical realism novels and short stories.

The tale of two literary forums

If you were out on the Internet in the 1980s, you probably remember that CompuServe was a major ISP, providing e-mail and forums for millions of users. In those days, almost every hi-tech company, whether hardware or software, had a forum staffed in part by representatives of the company to help people with bugs, usage issues, and other information. In addition to these forums, CompuServe also maintained forums for pets, religion, political discussions, hobbies, and literature.

Jupiter Images art

The forums all provided discussions in threads–originally in a DOS/non-graphic mode–that looked sort of like the outline-style comments on many blogs as well as on Facebook posts. As CompuServe (which became part of AOL) lost market share over time, these forums dwindled in number so that on December 14th when the remaining forums were shut down by CompuServe’s parent (a Verizon subsidiary), there were relatively few forums left compared to the old lineup.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was a regular participant on CompuServe’s Literary Forum. That name was later changed to Books and Writers. Those who participated in the forum in those days had a rare treat, seeing the birth of now-bestselling author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In those days, she was a very active participant and helped many of us get our start in the writing business. She answered questions from everything from craft issues to publication and promotion issues. While her active participation seemed reduced to me due to her busier schedule, she was still on the forum when CompuServe pulled the plug this month.

Like many early participants, I was lured away from the forum by the more cutting-edge software at MySpace and then Facebook. Also, the software at CompuServe’s forums changed so that when you replied to a comment, your reply was no longer posted beneath the message you were responding to, but at the end of the thread. For me, that made navigation a punishing task. Plus, many of the people I knew there when I was a regular had drifted away, and so I had less incentive to go there as fewer and fewer people knew me. My personal opinion was that the staff had become a bit heavy handed, though others didn’t see it that way.

Now, there are two forums to choose from

  1. The management of the former CompuServe forum, that is to say, the forum’s contract holder and the staff members (called Sysops and Section Leaders) changed the name back to Literary Forum. You can find it here: http://www.thelitforum.com/
  2. Meanwhile, a group of former-participants at the CompuServe forum who disagreed with various of the forum’s policies, started its own Literary Forum. You can find it here: https://forumania.com/      This screen is a landing page for multiple forums, one of which is Literary Forum with a button to click on to go to the forum.

Both forums are new. So there are probably software issues still to be worked out. The first forum listed here has more posts because they apparently were able to bring over posts from CompuServe. The Forumania Literary Forum doesn’t have a fan base and has fewer discussions to involve yourself with. I am a participant in both forums, but have a strong preference for the new Literary forum on Forumania.

Both forums require you to create an account if you want to respond to posts or start your own threads. Both are free. Both forums offer sections (groupings of threads) that will appeal to many readers and writers. There are discussions of current books, genres, the writing craft, and promotional matters.

I invite you to look at each of them, learn how they are organized, and see if you can find a niche there that fits your preferences for talking about the books you’re reading and/or the books you’re writing and promoting. Unfortunately, neither forum has been able for afford software that places responses to threads in the order they’re posted. I figure that if Facebook and WordPress can display responses in an outline form, everyone ought to be able to do it–and CompuServe knew how to do it decades ago. So navigation isn’t as user friendly at either place as it is at other websites.

However, I received a lot of writing help and inspiration at the original Literary Forum when I was starting out. Perhaps you’ll find this kind of help at one of these literary forums as well. They are worth the time and effort and a good place to make some new online friends.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories, many from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

 

Briefly Noted: ‘Old Style Conjure’ by Starr Casas

Those who know Mama Starr Casas from her Old Style Conjure website, need no introduction to this practical guidebook published in September. Like her website commentaries, it’s blunt, practical, based on the culture she grew up in, and overviews works (spells) and approaches in an easy to understand manner. The book reminds us that conjure (hoodoo, rootwork) is directly linked to African American ancestors, the Christian Bible, and common sense approaches to magic based on the materials at hand in a typical Southern household.

Conjure workers are usually Christian. I like Casas’ statement, “If you remove the Bible from Old Style Conjure work then what you are doing really isn’t Conjure work! It then becomes something else. If you can hold the greatest Conjure book ever written in your hands and learn the power from it; why in the world would you let anyone stop you?” She also doesn’t agree with people who mix hoodoo with other forms of magic in a roll-your-own approach.

Publisher’s Description:

Conjure, hoodoo, rootwork―these are all names for southern American folk magic. Conjure first emerged in the days of slavery and plantations and is widely considered among the most potent forms of magic. Its popularity continues to increase, both in the United States and worldwide. This book is a guide to using conjure to achieve love, success, safety, prosperity, and spiritual fulfillment. Author Starr Casas, a hereditary master of the art, introduces readers to the history and philosophy of conjure and provides practical information for using it. Featuring Casas’s own rituals, spells, and home recipes, the book provides useful information suitable for novices and seasoned practitioners alike.

In its pages, you’ll learn about:

  • Bone reading
  • Candle burning
  • Conjure bags
  • Building your own conjure altar

Research or Practical Use

This book is readable and should be very helpful to those who are interested in folk magic as an avocation, want to try out spell work themselves, or are fascinated by the history and culture of hoodoo. Students of magic will also enjoy the inspirational forward by Orion Foxwood.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two hoodoo novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

Book Bits: Robert Hastings, Saudi Theaters, Psychobabble,’Spy of the First Person’, Roy Moore

My Facebook author’s page has been hogging many of the authors and publishers links that I used to include in my Boot Bits feature. I won’t promise to fix that until the cows come home, but for now, here are a few links:

  1. Obituary: Robert Hastings – “Robert Hastings, publisher at Black Spring Press, died November 30, the Bookseller reported. He was 52. Hastings founded Black Spring Press in 1985 to “breathe new life into neglected classics.” Its first publication was a reprint of Anais Nin’s D.H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study, and the press subsequently produced work by Julian Mclaren-Ross, Patrick Hamilton, Nick Cave, Charles Baudelaire, Kyril Bonfiglioli, Carolyn Cassady and Leonard Cohen, among others.” Shelf-Awareness
  2. New TitleThe Dangerous Power of Psychobabble: Ramblings of a Disillusioned Psychotherapist, by Rae Franklin – In this self-help book, Rae Franklin, a retired state-licensed, nationally certified psychotherapist, dives in headfirst to deconstruct five of the most destructive psychological myths permeating modern-day society. In the midst of her deconstruction, she offers pointers for raising psychologically healthy children and tips for healing ourselves.
  3. QuotationI always felt and still feel that fairy tales have an emotional truth that is so deep that there are few things that really rival them. – Alice Hoffman
  4. Film News: Saudi Arabia is lifting a 35-year ban on movie theaters, and Twitter is thrilled, by Jarrett Lyons – After decades of being banned from Saudi Arabia, national authorities have announced that movie theaters will once again be allowed in its borders in a landmark decision. – Salon
  5. Book Review: ‘Spy of the First Person,’ Sam Shepard’s poignant goodbye, comes to the page, by Jocelyn McClurg – “It’s hard to think of an affliction crueler than ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that, over time, renders its victims helpless. And so there’s something beautiful about the slender, cryptic, almost hallucinatory volume of prose that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard, who died of ALS complications at age 73 on July 27, left behind as an epitaph.” USA Today
  6. Journalism: How Washington Post journalists broke the story of allegations against Roy Moore, by Libby Casey – “Post reporters Stephanie McCrummen and Beth Reinhard describe how the story started with on-the-ground reporting in Alabama and locals in the Gadsden area sharing memories about Moore’s past. Through dozens of interviews and weeks of fact-checking, what started as a tip became a story that could shake an election.” The Washington Post
  7. Interview: Judith Flanders (Christmas: A Biography), with Lily McLemore – “Ultimately, my research showed that Christmas isn’t so much wrapped up in nostalgia, as nostalgia is a major part of the holiday. It is a way of creating a collective illusion that life was once better—an illusion we need, one that lets us believe we can get back to that state once more.” – Book Page
  8. PublishingLittle Brown Scrambling to Meet ‘Obama: An Intimate Portrait’ Demand, by Jim Milliot – “One of the early hot books of the holiday shopping seasons appears to be Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza, the White House photographer during Obama’s two terms. The $35 hardcover, published by Little, Brown, features hundreds of photographs plus a foreword by the former President.” Publishers Weekly
  9. Writing Tips: Is It Too Late to Start Writing After 50?, by Julie Rosenberg – “Today, I am over age 50 with a full-time career in a demanding corporate role. It may seem to some like far from the ideal time to write a book. In fact, several family members and friends told me that I was nothing short of crazy when I mentioned my book idea.” Jane Friedman
  10. Feature Story: Adam Gopnik: ‘You’re waltzing along and suddenly you’re portrayed as a monster of privilege’, by Hadley Freeman – “The New Yorker essayist on his latest memoir, At the Strangers’ Gate, and the problem of writing about happiness.” The Guardian

Book Bits is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal short stories and novels.

 

Should our fiction focus more on why you should beware of those you love?

“Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you.” – Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

“You’re more likely to be hurt or killed by someone you know or love. And you’ll probably be at home when it happens.” – Mother Jones Magazine

“Over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence, with the vast majority of the victims dying at the hands of a current or former romantic partner” – The Atlantic

“Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.” – SPCC

As I look at articles written for and about writers and their work these days, the focus of late seems to be mirroring the political issues debated in the press, in Congress, in churches, and in social media.  I am seeing more essays, poems, and short stories by writers who–like everyone else–are trying to make sense of environmental problems, personal rights, racial issues, economic imbalances, health care priorities, terrorism, immigration, and religion as it impacts governmental policies.

Some writers write to figure stuff out: the resulting poem or short story might help readers figure stuff out. And if the writer is good, this can be done without making the poem or story sound like a political tract or a news release from a social service organization. It’s been said that many people learn more history from well-written historical novels than they do from the basic history courses they were required to take in high school and college? Why? The drama of the story catches their attention. The same can be said about fiction that focuses on the issues of the day.

For those of us who haven’t yet become immune to the horrors reported in the daily news, the quotes at the beginning of this post are shocking. The thing is, most news stories about family-related abuse and murder focus on one family or one person. So, while the numbers of the dead, dying, and traumatized continue to add up through the calendar year, nothing focuses our attention on them with high amount of impact of terrorist shootings such as 58 people killed and 546 injured at the Las Vegas Harvest music festival on October 1.

We lost our innocence a long time ago, those of us who–as children–believed that the world would be better off by the time we grew up than it has turned out to be. We believed in Superman and other heroes who would find ways to prevent every potential Las Vegas horror without infringing on our liberties. And we believed in the power of churches, laws, social service institutions, education, and the general evolution of society to end the abuse and murder of family members, especially women and children.

So here we are today, focused on terrorism–which we seriously do need to sanely address–while deaths and injuries of family members stack up like cord wood with fewer headlines to remind us that those we love are more likely to hurt us or kill us than a terrorist or some other thug on the streets. I’ve seen novels and poems about this, but not enough. It’s easier to find novels about fighting terrorism than fighting child and spousal abuse. I’m not surprised: after all, a government security contractor that isn’t bound by the rules governing police/FBI fighting a group that wants to blow up Washington, D. C. is more likely to be a bestseller than a novel about a woman who keeps calling the local police department with fears about what her husband might do.

We can do better, I think. We can look at family-oriented abuse and murder and–perhaps, first–join nonprofit groups that are fighting it and educating the public about it. But writers can take another step. They can experiment with themes and plots and characters and find compelling ways to tell stories about individuals who are–so to speak–living in hell next door while we focus on people caught up in the national news miles away. We need writers creating short stories, essays, memoirs, and poetry about this as a means of figuring out why it’s happening, and of reminding readers that it’s happening closer than they think.

–Malcolm

News: Free book and a new title

For your consideration when you’re looking for something to read:

  • Mountain Song is free on Kindle December 2 and 3: David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?
  • Quotation: “After a while, the characters I’m writing begin to feel real to me. That’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction.” – Alice Hoffman
  • A Shallow River of Mercy, a new title from Robert Hays, released December 1 by Thomas-Jacob PublishingErnst Kohl has spent nearly half his life in prison after being convicted of murder as a young man. Upon his release, with nowhere else to go, Kohl returns to his old family home on the outskirts of a small Michigan town, hoping for redemption, or at least understanding. He finds a dog, a girlfriend, and a job in quick succession, and it seems as if he might finally be able to leave the past behind and make a quiet life for himself. But some of the residents, including the town’s corrupt deputy sheriff, are less than thrilled to see him, and will stop at nothing to rid the town of its infamous resident. As events hurtle to an inevitable conclusion, Kohl is left to decide: At what point might a man break, and at what cost to himself? 
  • Thanksgiving: I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving or–if needed–survived the relatives. We enjoyed a nice visit with my brother and his wife who drove up from Florida, shared wine and food and a thousand-piece puzzle, and provided a lot of great conversation. The lights and wreath went up (not by themselves) on the front door today while inside we’re wrapping gifts to hand over to the post office, hopefully for delivery.

Malcolm