Briefly Noted: ‘The Outsider’ by Stephen King

Like his Mr. Mercedes trilogy, King’s The Outsider begins as a thriller/police procedural, then falls down the rabbit hole of the supernatural. I wasn’t happy with this in Mr. Mercedes, because after two books of standard police work, I thought changing the genre into a supernatural solution in book three was a mistake. However, in this standalone book, it works.

From the Publisher

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is discovered in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens—Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon have DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying details begin to emerge, King’s story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

The police seem to have Maitland dead to rights, But then more and more lapses in the investigation begin to occur. Mainly, how could Maitland be in two places at the same time? The star of the show is a private detective who specializes in skip tracer, lost dog, and missing persons work at a small agency called Finders Keepers named Holly Gibney. (She appeared in earlier King novels.)

She has seen doppelgänger cases before and is open to multiple solutions that don’t fit the standard police approach. King does a good job of building tension, showing the frustration of the police investigators, and allowing Gibney to slowly orient the investigation toward a supernatural solution.

I enjoyed the book.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal novels and short stories.

 

Book is done: should I throw a wrap party?

Authors react in a variety of ways to the completion of a book.

Some are at loose ends because their days and nights have been filled up with time spent working on the manuscript. Others feel empty: the plot and characters have been on their mind for so long, and now poof, they’re en route to the publisher. Multitasking authors already have a new book in mind and can jump right into it, staying busy rather than fretting about the book’s completion.

I started work on Fate’s Arrows two years ago, then got derailed for a year of cancer treatments, followed up by feeling bogged down by the virus and the nightly riots. I’m a bit of an empath and I write intuitively, so all kinds of stuff can become disruptive before a manuscript if complete.

Typical wrap party

When the production of a film is complete, cast and crew often attend a wrap party to celebrate reaching the finish line. Pat Conroy once said that a team of fifteen or more people helped with his books: editors, cover artists, book designers, fact-checkers, permissions people, publicists, etc. But, here it’s just me. Well, there is my publisher, but she lives in central Florida and probably isn’t going to meet me at the Rome, Georgia Applebee’s for a wrap party with our spouses. (I’ve urged her to buy a company jet to make traveling faster than the family car.)

I can’t very well invite the characters over since they exist in my mind and on paper. There’s probably a state law against having a party with imaginary people. In his novel The Outsider, Stephen King mentioned author Harlan Coben a number of times. Maybe Harlan came over for drinks when the book was done. Sadly, I didn’t mention either Stephen or Harlan in Fate’s Arrows. If I had, I’m sure they’d meet me at the Rome, Georgia Applebee’s. (They probably have their own planes.)

So, I’ll probably boil some water in the Dutch oven, toss in some macaroni, and fix Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner, and tell my wife and cats, “well folks, that’s a wrap.”

Malcolm

 

From one culture shock to another

In Real Life

As you can see, some of our grass is more ancient pasture than yard.

In real life, I’m staying inside a lot, wearing a mask when I go shopping, taking a car with 81,000 miles on it to the shop, and constantly mowing our four acres of grass. Yesterday’s mowing, at 95 degrees and sunny, featured cows staring at me from the pasture on the other side of the barbed wire fence, unconcerned about the noise of the riding mower but startled and watchful the minute I sneezed. All of this seems far away from the protests and the pandemic.

Re-reading old books

I read fast. Always out of books. So, trying to cut down on my book-buying habit by re-reading old books.  I just finished re-reading John Hart’s gritty The Last Child and The Hush set in a small town in a rural county where bad things happen. Now I’m re-reading Lisa See’s China Dolls, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It features three young women who become friends while seeking dancing/singing careers. These books contrast greatly with Dark Arrows, my novel in progress, which is set in the KKK-infested Florida Panhandle where I grew up. I have to re-boot my brain when I switch genres–or watch the news.

Pandemic and Protests

Wikipedia Photos

As far as I know, I haven’t gotten Covid-19. Nor have I seen protests, looting, attacks against the police, and burning stores on nearby streets. This is, of course, real-life, but as it unfolds on social media and on the news, I feel culture shock again as though I’m looking back to the anti-war protests and race riots of the 1960s. The entire country seems to be torn apart by the multiple issues which we’re confronted with daily. Meanwhile, the Presidential campaign has heated up and we’re all trying to figure out what’s true and what’s an empty (or impossible) promise.

I’ve lived in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco: thank goodness I don’t live in those cities now, much less in Minneapolis (where I once wanted to live) or Portland (where one of my brothers lives). Or St. Louis, Seattle, or NYC. The riot in Atlanta where the Wendys burnt down occurred in an area my wife and I drove through frequently when we worked there and were involved in a non-profit organization that met a few blocks away.

I don’t know where all of this is going to end up, but the polarization and lack of tolerance bother me a lot. So, I continue to read, write, and cut the grass, and when I see images of big cities on fire, I remember a 1960s riot several blocks away from my San Francisco apartment on Dolores Street in the Mission District, and I feel sad for those who are pulled into the horror of protests gone bad. Seeing it all again is the worst of culture shocks.

–Malcolm

 

I wish it were easy to add illustrations to my books

When I read old novels, I enjoy the engravers’ work. Sometimes the illustrations begin new chapters or appear in line with the text to add weight to a description. Whether or not one believes an illustration is worth a thousand words, the graphics, in my opinion, helped convey the novel’s places and characters and events to the readers.

I’m always happy when the publishers of modern-day novels take the trouble to add a reoccurring graphic at the book’s chapter beginnings, or better yet, graphics that fit the text here and there throughout the book.

Unless an author is an artist, the first roadblock today comes from having to hire an illustrator, and that might just be an expense that’s higher than what the book is projected to earn. Yes, there are stock agencies where one can find illustrations, but their use is typically limited to cover artwork.

The second issue is copyright. Sorting that out might be a nightmare to just determine who owns it; and then, if anyone does own it, getting permission and paying a fee to use it (sometimes waved for educational books).

In my case, I mention real products in my novels, partly to set the scene, partly to give the reader a sense of the times, and partly just to show what I’m talking about. For example, if I were writing a novel set in Montana in the 1800s, I would probably mention (or have the characters attend) one of the presentations of the traveling Shakespeare companies. Showing a handbill would be wonderful. Or, I would have one of my characters who likes chewing tobacco get swept up in the craze of related products. I love the artwork from the Juliet tobacco pouch.

If I could draw (ha ha), I might create a black-and-white illustration of the downtown of one of my made-up towns, showing what such a place might have looked like during the time when the novel is set. No, I don’t want a graphic novel. Just a few drawings to convey the ambiance of the stories.

Malcolm

My contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer” is currently free on Kindle.

Free Book Promotion: ‘The Sun Singer’

Free on Kindle

My contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer will be free on Kindle from June 30 through July 4.

A “Foreword Magazine” Book of the Year Finalist when it first came out, this remains my favorite novel (though I won’t say that to the characters in my other novels.) If you’ve already read The Sun Singer, you may enjoy the sequel Sarabande.

Both books are set in the mountain high country of Montana’s Glacier National Park where I worked as a seasonal hotel employee and hiked all the trails used in the novels.

Description

Robert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see.

When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help.

On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.

I hope you enjoy the story.

Malcolm

 

 

This and that on a rainy afternoon

  • The picture of our weather RADAR shows why–once again–we had to postpone mowing our yard. Supposedly, Fescue grows .5 inch per month. Ours seems to be growing faster. At our previous house, we had Centipede grass. It’s growing season starts later and it grows slower. I wish we had that here.
  • I just finished reading the sequel to Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain which I read when it first came out. Written by Daniel H. Wilson, The Andromeda Evolution, fits nicely into the style and plot of the original, though potentially with a more unlikely ending. Still, I had fun reading it. If you haven’t read the original, you may be a little lost.
  • Earlier this year, I held a sale for my Vietnam War novel At Sea. Somebody left a comment, saying they would be happy to write a review. I was looking at my Amazon author’s page yesterday and noticed the review was there. What a great review. The reviewer’s name was listed as Robin. If you’re the person who left the comment here several months ago, I wanted you to know that I appreciate the review.
  • For those of you keeping score <g>, I did finish reading Madame Bovary.
    Currently available Steegmuller translation published in 2013.

    The book was well written, though I have to say, it was strange reading a novel that was hit with obscenity charges when it came out that didn’t have an overt sex scene in it. For today’s readers, other than those who enjoy experiencing the classics, the book will read very slowly.

  • Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be cleaning out the garage today–that is, editing my novel in progress. Some gurus say a novel should sit for a bit before an author starts editing. Since I didn’t really feel like editing today anyhow, I’ve decided to follow that advice. I wonder how long I can use that excuse.
  • During our quarantine days, my wife has been making cherry pies and blackberry pies. Unfortunately, the standard Oregon Brand of pie cherries/berries has disappeared from the stores around here in favor of some goofy brand of pie filling. However, we just went online last year and started ordering our Oregon favorites in bulk.

Besh wishes for the month of July which we all hope goes more smoothly than the previous months of the year.

Malcolm

New title: ‘Child of Sorrow’ by Melinda Clayton

Thomas-Jacob Publishing has released the third title in Melinda Clayton’s “Tennessee Delta Series,” Child of Sorrow. Currently available as an e-book, the novel will appear in additional formats as soon as printer supply chains return to normal.

Prior books in the series are: Blessed are the Wholly Broken (2013) and A Woman Misunderstood (2016).

From the Publisher

When fourteen-year-old foster child Johnathan Thomas Woods is suspected of murder, an old letter and a tacky billboard advertisement lead him to the office of attorney Brian Stone. Recognizing the sense of hopelessness lurking under John’s angry façade, Stone is soon convinced of his innocence. When John offers up his lawn-mowing money as payment, Stone realizes this is a case he can’t refuse.

In the face of overwhelming evidence assembled by the prosecution, Stone and his team find themselves in a race against time to save an angry boy who’s experienced more than his fair share of betrayal, a boy who more often than not doesn’t seem interested in saving himself.

I was a beta reader for this novel and enjoyed the experience and the story.

–Malcolm

Hardcover edition woes

The pandemic has screwed a lot of supply chains as various manufacturing and retail operations shut down.

The shutdown problem is impacting my hardcover books, all of which are listed on Amazon (and possibly elsewhere) as out of stock. These come from a different printer than the paperback editions which are still available. The Kindle editions are also available.

I apologize for the inconvenience to those of you who have been perplexed about the missing hardcover editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, Lena, Sarabande, and Special Investigative Reporter. Let’s hope they return soon.

Malcolm

Okay, I guess I’ll read ‘Madame Bovary’

I bought a copy of Madame Bovary in 1991 just before my wife and I became involved as nearly full-time volunteers at a museum near Atlanta. All of my reading time switched over to museum-related research. So the novel sat–even after we left the museum and moved all my books from one house to another twice.

I am near the beginning of the novel now, a few pages past the time when Dr. Charles Bovary marries Emma Rouault, the daughter of one of his patients, so none of Emma’s indiscretions that led to Flaubert’s obscenity trial in 1856 have happened yet.

Flaubert was acquitted and, as usually happens after such trials, the book became a bestseller, and subsequently considered a masterpiece. Most Flaubert commentators mention that he was a perfectionist, agonizing (apparently for hours) over every word.

I can see this clearly even through the 1957 translation by Francis Steegmuller. The description of the farm where Emma lives reminds me of the exuberant care of Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  The scenes are so perfectly set in both novels, that it’s easy to feel like a time traveler back to 1827-1846 (Madame Bovary) and  1500-1535 (Wolf Hall).

Currently available Steegmuller translation published in 2013.

Steegmuller (1906-1994) translated quite a few of Flaubert’s works, so he was familiar with the author and his style. The novel has been translated into English at least 19 times, the first one coming from Karl Marx’ daughter Eleanor in 1886.

The critics argue about which translation is best, some chiding translations for using the current American slang of the day in their work. Steegmuller’s is among the better known, but–having been around for a while–his version gets sniped at by subsequent translators such as Lydia Davis’ 2010 comment in New York Magazine: “You’d think, working from one text, that the translations have got to be fairly similar. But it’s amazing how different they all are. Some are fairly close, but then they’ll add a metaphor that Flaubert doesn’t have. And some are outrageously far away. Two of the most popular, Steegmuller and Hopkins—they’re not bad books. They’re well written in their own way. But they’re not close to what Flaubert did.”

As some commentators have said, those of us who aren’t French, or aren’t fluent in French, will never know exactly what Flaubert did. As we say, “The map is not the territory,” we might also say “The translation is not the novel.” As for me, I’ll keep the translation I have–with no intention whatsoever of comparing it with the others.

Now, I’m waiting to see whether or not I’ll be shocked and scandalized!

–Malcolm

Looking back at Pat Conroy’s ‘Beach Music’

Beach Music (1995), Conroy’s sixth book, is the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife’s suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The novel is wide-ranging in its historical and geographical scope, and in its treatment of the Holocaust, Russian pogroms, and southern poverty, among other themes; it is generally recognized as Conroy’s ambitious—and perhaps darkest—work.Pat Conroy Web Site

Beach Music began as a 2,100-page manuscript which his publisher’s staff trimmed down. My mass market paperback is 800 pages. By today’s “standards” of shorter and shorter novels, this book is huge.

Like Conroy’s other novels, Beach Music focuses on a broken southern white male who’s the product of a dysfunctional family that grows up in the beautiful–and lyrically presented–South Carolina Lowcountry.

Excerpt: “It enclosed us in its laceries as we watched the moon spill across the Atlantic like wine from an overturned glass. With the light all around us, we felt secret in that moon-infused water like pearls forming in the soft tissues of oysters.”

The novel’s length comes, in part, from the backstories of many of the other characters as well as childhood reminiscences between protagonist Jack McCall and his brothers.

If we were to extract a basic plotline, it would be this. McCall leaves the Lowcountry with his two-year-old daughter Leah and moves to Rome after his wife Shyla commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. McCall is, of course, blamed for this; his wife’s parents claim McCall is unfit to raise Leah, but fail to prove their case in court. He severs his relationships with his family to the point of keeping his address and phone number secret. Slowly, family members work their way back into his life and communications begin to open up.

Part of his understanding of his extended family comes from considering their dark backgrounds, including the Holocaust. His mother’s background is especially bleak and is almost too horrible to comprehend. My belief is that these divergences, while well written and very dark, are too long.

The darkness is balanced out somewhat by the fact that McCall and his brothers take a devil-may-care approach to life. They’re likely to say or do almost anything, proper or not. On McCall’s first trip back to the states, somebody asks him who’s watching his daughter in Rome while he’s gone. His response is that Charles Manson got paroled and needed the work.

While sitting with his brothers in the hospital room where their mother is in a coma, somebody mentions that they should be careful what they say because people in comas can hear what’s being said at one level of the mind or another. Jack responds by saying something like, Mama, this is Jack. I’m the one who loves you. My brothers think you’re trash and don’t care about you at all. When it comes to your children’s love, it’s always Jack.

My favorite Conroy novel remains Prince of Tides, also filled with Lowcountry beauty and a family’s dysfunctions. I’ve read Prince of Tides multiple times. This past week was the first time I re-read Beach Music since it came out. It remains in my view, a stunning book in part because of its flaws.

Malcolm