BigAl’s Books and Pals Review: ‘The Sun Singer’ by Malcolm R Campbell

This is one of Campbell’s earlier books (first published 2010) and already his gifts for drawing warm characters and laying out a story so it flows towards and immerses the reader are well developed.

Source: BigAl’s Books and Pals: Review: The Sun Singer (Mountain Journeys Book 1) by Malcolm R Campbell

First Edition

Seeing this unexpected review appear on my Facebook news feed this morning makes my week (much more than yesterday’s after-supper lawn mowing), brings back a ton of nostalgia, and makes me wonder once again whether I made a very bad decision pulling it away from the agent who had my typewritten manuscript for the book in the 1980s.

The reviewer mentions that the book was inspired by the mountains of Glacier National Park Montana where I worked two summers as a hotel bellman. Those of you who have read my blogs for years also know that it was also inspired by a famous statue called “The Sun Singer” which I saw at Allerton Park, Illinois when I was (I think) in junior high school.

The novel is a bit earlier than the reviewer knows. I wrote it in the 1980s, got it accepted by a small but influential agent, and then waited for almost a year with no word. She liked the novel, but her small agency had also taken on a novel that turned out to be as huge then as The Game of Thrones is now. (I refuse to mention the title of the book or its sequels.) She said my wait would be an even longer one, so I took the manuscript back.

Was that a mistake? I guess I’ll never know. She might have found a publisher when she finally got around to actively shopping it, or she might not. The fact that an agent liked it led me to believe I could find a publisher who liked it. That took 24 years. I was gratified by the fact the book’s 2004 first edition was a “Foreword Reviews” book-of-the-year finalist but less than pleased that my publisher was iUniverse, a vanity press. But I would always wonder if the book might have received a wider audience in less time if I’d left it with that agent.

Current Edition

Later, several small traditional publishers wanted it, and this led to the 2010 edition. That publisher and I ultimately had a contractual disagreement, and that led to the current (2015) Kindle edition.

It’s interesting to me that several passages in the novel that happened more or less simultaneously were typeset by iUniverse in side-by-side columns. Nobody else has been able to do that since, including several other prospective publishers. I grew up in a letterpress-evolving-to-offset printing world where those columns wouldn’t have been a problem. “Progress” into a print-on-demand/Kindle world has taken away an option for small-press authors.

Nonetheless, this weird history of the novel doesn’t take away my gratitude that a reviewer found and liked the book after all these years. With a bit of luck, maybe my first novel will find a few more readers.

Malcolm

 

 

That book on the end of the shelf

I’ve written a lot of words on this blog during the past two years about my three magical realism, conjure and crime novels set in north Florida: Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena. But what’s the book on the end of the shelf?

That book, Sarabande, was the most difficult novel for me to write. Previously, I’d written The Sun Singer, a hero’s journey contemporary fantasy told from a young man’s point of view. But the hero’s journey is only half of the world’s mythic cosmic story. I needed the heroine’s journey, a novel told from a young woman’s point of view.

The hero’s journey is a series of events out of comparative mythology developed by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. While some authors have tried, the heroine’s journey cannot be shoe-horned into the hero’s journey scheme. It’s too different, more moon and seeds and underworld secrets than derring-do and sky-god stories and changing oneself while risking one’s life in the service of others.

As an author, it’s difficult for a man to put himself into a woman’s shoes and tell a woman’s story. While he may have worn such shoes in previous lifetimes, he doesn’t belong in those shoes in this lifetime. Fortunately, my main character, Sarabande also appeared in The Sun Singer and that meant I had known her for a long time, so there was a history there that was stronger than it would have been if I had used a new character.

I liked Sarabande in The Sun Singer and avoided writing a novel about her for many months because I didn’t want to see her go through the heroine’s journey, a journey that included a physical assault by a man and a vicious and life threatening sexual overture by a female denizen of the underworld. The book was a learning experience for me, though one that was most likely limited to the confines of the book rather than my coming anywhere close to truly knowing the trials and joys of women.

My happiest moment after the book was released was the comment by a female reviewer who said that the story was so real she had to keep reminding herself that it had been written by a male author.

Sarabande is a dark women’s story written primarily for women. The man’s hero’s journey, when it unfolds naturally, ends in transformation. Likewise, the woman’s heroine’s journey. Two paths, each undertaken out of the necessities of the real world, yet each ending in profound, spiritual changes on opposides of the male/female coin.

Sarabande is available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

Malcolm

Briefly Noted: ‘Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction’

Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction by Farah Mendlesohn and Michael Levy won the 2018 Mythopoeic Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies. When Sandra Lindow, Levy’s widow, accepted the award for her late husband (who died last year), she said, “He would be particularly pleased to receive this recognition because historically children’s fantasy has been undervalued. A good part of his career was dedicated to reading and researching those books that provide both high-quality entertainment and emotional education for children and young adults.”

With the exception of R. J. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which also captured the attention of adult readers, children’s fantasy is often written off as “just kids’ stuff” while fairy tales have received a great deal of scholarly analysis. I hope this award will help draw attention to this book as well as its subject.

Publisher’s Description

“Fantasy has been an important and much-loved part of children’s literature for hundreds of years, yet relatively little has been written about it. Children’s Fantasy Literature traces the development of the tradition of the children’s fantastic – fictions specifically written for children and fictions appropriated by them – from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century, examining the work of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, C. S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, J. K. Rowling and others from across the English-speaking world. The volume considers changing views on both the nature of the child and on the appropriateness of fantasy for the child reader, the role of children’s fantasy literature in helping to develop the imagination, and its complex interactions with issues of class, politics, and gender. The text analyses hundreds of works of fiction, placing each in its appropriate context within the tradition of fantasy literature.”

Children’s Literature Association Quarterly Review

“Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction is an immense work in scope and scholarship. As befits its authors, Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn – two prominent figures in the world of children’s literature criticism – this latest work is a far-reaching feat that grasps the tenuous strings of the inception of both fantasy and children’s literature and weaves them from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries into a tremendous narrative tapestry.” – Joli Barham McClelland

From the Introduction

“The aim of this book is to bring together two traditions of criticism, that of the literature of the fantasic, and that of children’s literature. In addition, the book aims ti situate children’s fantasy in the context of changing ideas of childhood across three centuries; and perhaps most crucially, to consider the effect which the extension of childhood has had upon the writing and publishing of children’s fiction.”

The research and writing of this book comprise an ambitious project that will lead to greater understanding of the genre and–with luck–more respect.

Malcolm

 

New Cover for ‘The Sun Singer’

I have updated the cover of The Sun Singer to make the style similar to the covers of Mountain Song and At Sea. The text is the same inside with the exception of the photo credit for the new cover and an update to my list of other novels.

The hero’s journey adventure story is contemporary fantasy.

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 of Glacier National Park, 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.

The heroine’s journey story sequel is Sarabande,

–Malcolm

February book give-away

My contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer will be free on Kindle February 4th and 5th.

DescriptionRobert 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.

Praise for The Sun Singer

Many thanks to the seventeen readers who posted Amazon reviews with a 4.9-star average rating.

I love everything you said, but I am especially fond of the review left by contemporary fantasy author Seth Mullins in 2006: “I have encountered few books that have moved me like this one has. Thomas Covenant. Lord of the Rings. Stranger in a Strange Land. There are a few I could name; but really, how many life-changing moments can you have without feeling a little crazy in the end? Life, in its wisdom, rations them out to us. The Sun Singer is one. Maybe I’ll never have the opportunity to encounter the forces of darkness and light that struggle in the depths of my soul, personified within an exotic and yet strangely familiar otherworld, like Robert Adams was fortunate enough to. But I do know this: after reading this book, my own mundane world didn’t look or feel quite the same. I reckon yours may not either, at that.”

Even though the book is free, I know that reading it represents an investment of your time. If you download the book, I hope you enjoy it and see your time with this hero’s journey novel as time well spent.

Malcolm

Review: ‘The Paper Magician’

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book just doesn’t work, though it has an interesting (and brave) main character as well as an inventive premise. A young woman graduates at the top of her class at magic school, is apprenticed against her hopes and dreams to a magician named Emory Thane who does magic with sheets of paper, and before she can learn more than a few basics is suddenly thrust into a battle with a master magician who hates her new mentor.

The problem is simply this: a vast portion of the book is taken up with a very lengthy vision sequence in which most of the elements are symbolic, old memories, wishes and dreams which the reader has no way of understanding or relating to. This is rather like reading a long drug trip experience with characters one doesn’t yet know well enough to understand most of the imaginary stuff, much less how (or if) it connects to the plot.

Secondly, since the protagonist, Creony Twill, has only learned a few minor paper folding techniques, the idea she can defeat the master magician who dislikes Thane is about as believable as, say, Harry Potter going up against Voldemort after who days at Hogwarts while on LSD.

The characters and story have a lot of promise, but the vision/imagination trip is not well anchored and just seems to float out there in space where nothing is real and nothing seems to matter. Even fantasies must be plausible.

Malcolm

View all my reviews

Inanna’s mythic heroine’s journey

from the archives

“The world’s first love story, two thousand years older than the Bible—tender, erotic, shocking, and compassionate—is more than a momentary entertainment. It is a sacred story that has the intention of bringing its audience to a new spiritual place. With Inanna, we enter the place of exploration: the place where not all energies have been tamed or ordered.” – Diane Volkstein in “Inanna, the Queen of Heaven and Earth: her Stories and Hymns from Sumer”

Inanna, as envisioned by nikkirtw123 on Photobucket is strikingly close to my vision of Sarabande as I wrote the novel.

As an author, I view my characters through a high-powered microscope and present the results of what I see as part of my stories. I will put you into the characters’ shoes if I can because—as Diana Volkstein writes—this is where the energies haven’t been tamed or ordered.

In an older novel, I described that place like this: “He knew him at the binary level where the line between matter and energy is barely discernible and often non-existent: Where urges pull at their chains, where drives push dumbly and drip sweat, where instincts race unchecked, where a horrifying sadness lies buried, where a raw pulse drums a cadence for the primitive rites of changing seasons, where white-hot impulses leap synapses in a shower of elemental fire.”

I wanted a similar, up-close focus in my heroine’s journey novel Sarabande. So, for the story of a woman seeking wisdom and wholeness, I could think of no better model than the myth of Inanna, a graphic dramatization of a woman’s inner journey to find herself outside the traps and trappings of a masculine world that has–as Sylvia Brinton Perera (“Descent to the Goddess”) wrote–forced the binary level of feminine power into dormancy for 5,000 years.

Or, as the late Adrienne Rich said, “The woman I needed to call my mother was silenced before I was born.”

Sarabande’s Heroine’s Journey

The journey in “real life”

In today’s terms, Sarabande was a tomboy. She was an expert with a knife, bow and arrow, a fishing pole, and everything she needed to know to survive in the wilderness. She learned all this from her father because her her mother believed women should only learn to keep a good home and not question society’s norms for women. However, Sarabande will never truly become herself as long as she is a disciple of either her late warrior father or her misguided, preachy mother. She is being taunted by a ghost that she must approach face to face in the ghost’s world.

Early on in her quest to rid herself of the ghost of her dead sister Dryad, Sarabande learns to see the world at a binary level: The lake, surrounding mountains and the cloud-draped sky broke apart into millions of colored specks. Sarabande leaned against Sikimí, even though he was no longer solid, and saw that her own light-pink hand was not solid either. In spite of her sudden dizziness, she did not fall. In fact, when her fingertips touched Sikimí’s side, a swarm of pink specks flew, like bees, into the permeable yellow gold of the horse, and when they did, their color changed to match the specks in their new environment.

moon

But she doesn’t know what it means. So it is, that her quest to find and confront her sister follows the pattern of Inanna’s Heroine’s journey to confront her sister Eriskigal, Goddess of the Underworld. The underworld, in this case, is not the world of mobs and crime or “hell” in the Christian view, but the more dangerous world of the unconscious. Like Inanna, Sarabande will be broken, shamed and close to death before she learns who she is.

This is the heroine’s journey, to be buried in mother earth like a seed where she will be reborn with the spring into a new creation that finally has the freedom to follow the original injunctions of her destiny and her gender.

–Malcolm

The Kindle edition of “Sarabande” is on sale today (March 31, 2016) for 99¢.