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Posts from the ‘fiction’ Category

Potpourri – June 2019

Notice: If this post contained any real potpourri, you’d be sneezing by now.  Come to think of it, I don’t know why well-meaning people thrust potpourri on innocent people who walk into a bathroom, living room, bookstore, Wicca supply shop, or auto supply store and then start sneezing their asses off.

Moving to Juneau?

If so, there’s work. I’d take this job in a New York minute (whatever that is) if I lived there:

The Sun Singer

If you’re one of the wonderful people who downloaded a free Kindle copy of The Sun Singer during the recent giveaway, thank you! If you like it, you may also like its gritty sequel Sarabande:

 

The Strand Bookstore

Since I have worked in historic preservation, I’m a fan of the National Register because it draws attention to a historic site or object and imposes no restrictions on the owner’s use of the property. Not so, the government overreach in forcing landmark status on New York City’s famous Strand Bookstore. The bookstore fought against the designation because it comes with rules that impact how the slim-profit-margin store can use the building it owns. I signed the petition against this kind of nonsense.

Medical Update

I posted this medical update on Facebook and since I’m too lazy to write a fresh medical update, I’ll just paste it into the blog:

Darn it, rain

I was planning to mow the yard after supper until I noticed that it’s getting a bit dark outside (at 2 p.m.). The weather RADAR indicates that I might not be cutting grass even though we just got one of our riding mowers back from the shop and it’s ready to go.

 

Fried chicken for dinner tonight, but there’s not enough for you, so don’t stop by unless you stop at the KFC on hightay 27 before you get here.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you read too much, you’ll pay for stuff you’ve already read

One of the problems of reading a lot of throw-away novels in between the high-quality novels you talk about on Facebook and Goodreads is discovering the book you’re reading suddenly looks familiar.

This seems to be a problem with thrillers (where there’s a lot of violence) and romances (where there’s a lot of sex) where everything is the same until you come to a pivotal scene where the author opted for a blast of creativity and did something unique with the action.

It’s a bit disconcerting to be 100 pages into a book when suddenly you realize, “Crikey, I’ve read this book already.” Not only did I not recognize the title, but for 99 pages everything seemed new. I guess that means that either nothing memorable happened or that I skimmed through a lot of words.

Women’s fiction seems to be a problem in this regard because novels are often re-issued with new titles and new author pseudonyms, so there’s no way to know the book you just bought is already in a box in the attic or garage.

At least Amazon tells you that you already bought the book, but this doesn’t help if you buy some books from Powell’s, B&N, Indies Unlimted, and at bricks and mortar stores. Apparently, the quantity of words obscures the fact that a reader has seen all this before. As an author, I wonder how another author can write so many pages in so many books that I don’t recognize the plot and characters before I get to the weird scene where the deja vu occurs.

I wonder how often this happens. I hope it happens often because otherwise, it’s just me.

Malcolm

Almost time to release two more hardcover editions

My publisher Thomas-Jacob and I have been waiting for the proof copies for the upcoming hardcover editions of Eulalie and Washerwoman and Lena. (The hardcover edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat came out about a week ago.)

Waiting for proof copies is like waiting for Christmas. We know what they look like on the screen, but we have to approve the physical book before the books can appear on online sites or in bookstores.

The proof copies arrived today and they look great. They might need a tweak or two, but they’re about ready to go. Next, Thomas-Jacob will be working its way through books by authors Smoky Zeidel, Sharon Heath, Robert Hays, and Melinda Clayton.

Hardcover editions survive the wear and tear of readers checking them out from a library. Many readers, including me, like hardcover editions of books we consider “keepers.” They last longer.

I’m happy that I have a publisher that can worry about all the details of turning a manuscript into a book. I’ll let you know as soon as the hardcover editions of Eulalie and Washerwoman and Lena are available.

Malcolm

 

A few books for your to-be-read list!

Review: ‘Temptation Rag’ by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Temptation RagTemptation Rag by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Temptation Rag immerses readers into a historical novel set during the heydey of ragtime (1895-1919) and vaudeville (1880 – 1920) with a cast of real and fictional characters grappling for love, freedom, and artistry in New York City. Ragtime gave way to jazz and vaudeville gave way to the cinema so, like almost every period in music and theater, the times were short, competitive, and bittersweet as talents and fortunes rose and fell depending on the inequalities imposed by the rich and famous, public taste, and racial/gender barriers.

Bernard’s story has a large cast of characters all of whom come across as multi-dimensional in her well-researched tableau. May Convery is a young woman from a rich family, who’s briefly smitten with vaudeville theater musical director Mike Gilbert at the beginning of his rise to fame as a ragtime composer and performer. Their lives criss-cross throughout the novel as they did in history in a soap opera basket of emotions that manages to haunt both of them forever.

As May finally comes into her own as an author and a volunteer in many causes, Mike’s life while seemingly larger and financially richer appears more brittle. Among all the vicissitudes of a musical career in the public eye, Mike is constantly compared with the popular performer Ben Harney who claims to have originated ragtime itself. Scott Joplin (“Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer” both brought back to public attention in the 1973 movie “The Sting”) is in the stratosphere of rag, talked about in the novel but not a character.

May’s friendship with African-American singer Abbie Mitchell and African-American composer J. Rosamond Johnson gives strength to a primary theme of the novel: racial/gender inequalities. While the barriers were historically real and are well-shown in the novel, some of May’s feelings appear to have been slightly influenced by contemporary attitudes about race relations.

The characters are strong enough and complex enough to pull readers through this well-written story almost as though we’re watching their lives play out in modern times on the television news. When the novel’s last lines scroll past its readers’ eyes and Temptation Rag is stowed away on the bookshelf, May will remain in mind one way or another.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

Having fun with my research

Now that I’ve finally promised my publisher a new novel and floated the general premise past her (she liked it), it’s time to do some research.

Typical poster used to get the public to do their own knitting and donate a lot of it to the cause.

Like the Florida Folk Magic Stories, this novel will be set in the Florida Panhandle, so I already know the area. This is one of the benefits of writing a series, or doing a standalone novel that uses the series as a starting point: you have a lot of location information on file that wasn’t used in the previous novels.

Since my main character is a bag lady in 1955, I’ve been looking at clothing manufactured during the 1940s. Needless to say, a bag lady isn’t going to be wearing the latest thing from Paris or even from Sears Roebuck. There’s a lot of material available about 1940s women’s clothing inasmuch as it was greatly influenced by rationing and shortages.  A lot of people were mending old clothes, making do with fewer fabric selections, and knitting socks for the troops (and themselves).  So, I think I know what my bag lady’s going to wear.

While the novel isn’t historical, I want the cultural references to be right. So, what was happening in Florida in 1955? I already know that the KKK was strong in those years. And I know that educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune died in 1955 in Daytona Beach. My bag lady would know that because even though 1955 is part of the Jim Crow era, the story would be covered by the press.

My bag lady is–for reasons I won’t divulge now–an expert bow hunter. This means checking on the kinds of bows and arrows used by hunters in those days. I had good luck with this. I found information about the most widely known brand of bow at the time along with a selection of arrows.

Now, since this novel starts where the series ends, I have to make sure that I don’t contradict anything that happened in the series. So, I’m researching my own stuff to make sure there aren’t any continuity problems. For example, if a bad guy was killed in the series, I don’t want him showing up in the new book fit as a fiddle. By the way, “fit as a fiddle” is the kind of thing my bag lady would say–checking the slang of an era is part of the process. I’m surprised at the number of TV series that have characters from years ago using modern slang such as “whoa!” (meaning “wow!”) and other phrases that nobody said twenty or thirty years ago.

When Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) and I were both in an ancient CompuServe literary forum, we found that we had one thing in common that a lot of writers weren’t understanding. The research has an impact on the story the writer is about to tell because it tips him/her off to things s/he didn’t know and is responsible for altering the plot of a novel in ways the writer wouldn’t have considered before the research phase began.

I didn’t care for research projects in school–often for the purpose of writing “themes” as they were called in those days–but I enjoy them now. I once read that writers like Nora Roberts have a staff that includes researchers. While there are times when I wish I could pick up the phone and ask an assistant a question and get an immediate answer, I feel much more in touch with my characters and my story when I have to look up all the stuff myself.

Malcolm

 

Tempting you with words and tambourines

Like Gordon Lightfoot’s “Minstrel of the Dawn” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” storytellers are always tempting you to follow them, as though through faerie rings, to the farthest reaches of tall tales, music, and imagination. We can’t promise you’ll return the way you were when you left the everyday land of logic, but you’ll find yourselves reborn in just the way the god of your heart intended.

For temptations from my website, I invite you to click on this picture:

 

–Malcolm

Here be dragons, yeah, right

Here’s the thing. About 100000 times a year, I read that old maps used to place the words HERE BE DRAGONS in areas that nobody knew anything about. The odd thing is, nobody has ever found an old map with those words on it.

It’s quite possible that I was a cartographer in a previous lifetime, though I’ll claim that I misspoke if I’m ever asked any questions about that by a Congressional committee.

Florida Photographic Collection

Maps fascinate me. Always have. Maybe this character flaw began when I was growing up and got bored between stops on long family vacations. We always went by car. After a while, the landscape outside the windows got repetitive, so I’d turn my attention to the service station maps we carried and made a game out of predicting when we would arrive at various locations down the road. Now, our cell phones do all this for us. But then it was fun.

In those days, I could predict within a few minutes when we’d pass the cities limits sign of every town down the road. Now I spend time trying to figure such things out when my stories involve people traveling. If a character is walking, riding a horse, on a train, in a car, or flying, when will they arrive where they’re going? I find myself looking up lengths of stride, terrain, and all sorts of things so that a hike in my story takes the same amount of time as the hike would take in real life.

In one recent short story, a father and his daughter were driving from Tallahassee, Florida to St. Marks, Florida while listening to a Scott Joplin recording. I kid you not, I timed out the lengths of the songs with the mileage so I could say stuff like “as they passed through Woodville, such and such a song was playing.”

When I was working on my two Glacier Park novels, The Sun Singer and Sarabande, I had a hiking map on my desk. Since I had hiked most of the trails in the section of the park where my stories were set, I knew how long it took to get from one place to another if one walked at a steady pace. Along with the map, I had a trail guide. That reminded me what the landscape looked like at each fraction of a mile along the trail.

While many authors look at me like I’m crazy when I mention such things, I don’t think I’m the only author who does this. I read a lot of novels set in a lot of cities and many of them are very specific about what a character can see while walking down one named street or another.

I guess it comes down to wanting to orient my characters in the places where they are just as I have always liked feeling oriented in the places where I am. If you have a compass and a map, but don’t know where you are, you can take sitings of recognizable landmarks and find the answer. I’ve always done this. So now, I’ve passed that trait along to my characters and maybe a few readers. And, if I’m lucky, maybe a dragon or two.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released collection of short stories called “Widely Scattered Ghosts.” You won’t be surprised to hear that it includes a story named “Map Maker.”

 

 

Briefly Noted: ‘The Hart Brand’ by Johnny D. Boggs

Many men in my generation grew up watching westerns at the theater and on TV. The first movie I remember seeing was “The Big Sky” based on the A.B. Gutherie’s 1947 novel set in Montana. Name a western movie made between 1940 and 1970, and I probably saw it. Yes, I liked “Shane” and “High Noon,” and some years later, “Lonesome Dove.” Yet, I haven’t read a western in years, much less gone to a western genre film.

You can tell just how long I’ve been away from westerns when I confess that when a friend who was downsizing his book collection gave me a copy of The Hart Brand, I’d never heard of author Johnny D. Boggs even though he’s prolific, viewed by many as the best westerns genre author in the business, and the winner of multiple Spur Awards.

I enjoyed the yarn.

We’re talking about a western for readers who are serious about westerns set in the days of Pat Garrett and the 1890s New Mexico Territory. Greenhorn Caleb Hart, whose father runs a mercantile in Missouri, heads west at 14 to work on his uncle’s ranch and send his paychecks back home to help support the family.

The book’s style and tone remind me of western novels of an earlier era and, for a story about a huge ranch, a hard-as-nails uncle Frank, cattle rustlers, strained family relationships, and frontier justice, the writing is perfect.

The “Booklist” review said, “Boggs writes with a drawling assurance, maintaining a keen eye for the details of life on the range. This is a fine western story about family ties and loyalty, set among cowboys rather than gunslingers, but with plenty enough action to satisfy.”

I don’t plan to go back to reading westerns, but this novel was an interesting change of pace. In a review, I would probably give it four stars. The writing is good enough for five stars but the story, in one form or another, has been told a thousand times. Nonetheless, a fun book. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Malcolm

 

Fast-Paced Books are the Pacifist’s Drano

Okay, the Drano comment isn’t totally fair. Many fast-paced books are well written, have inventive and cohesive plots, know how to keep readers guessing, and when all is said and done, sell to millions of readers. There’s a lot of art and craft to them in addition to marketing savvy.

I might have told this story here before. If so, bear with me. When the TV program “24” was running, a friend of mine and I realized that while we both have non-violent and anti-break-the-rules philosophies about police work and spy work, we puzzled out why we watched that series without fail. We decided that it was because the show brought us closure. That is to say, things got done, the bad guys went to jail, and the good guys (i.e., most of the population) weren’t made to sit in limbo waiting for government red tape and partisan politics to finally fix a problem.

I’m sure many of the viewers of shows like NCIS believe in the right to privacy, yet tolerate the show’s agents illegally hacking into private records because, at the end of the hour, the bad guys are dead or behind bars. I can understand why so many in the police and spy biz say the rules are tying their hands and why we keep hearing that our trusted agencies are doing things they shouldn’t do. Those things get results even though they go against everything this nation stands for.

In “real life,” I can’t support the black ops, off-the-grid actions of private agencies such as those in novels like Typhoon Fury. Half the stuff that happens is illegal as hell–and that’s the good guys. In the imaginary world of the novel, the bad guys get shut down. In the real world we live in, they probably don’t. Or if they do, they cause a lot more collateral damage before they’re stopped. Nonetheless, seeing the bad guys shut down in a novel provides a small measure of relief to all the frustrations that arise in the real world–and in my belief system.

So, I read these novels as a coping mechanism. As a writer, I also find it interesting to see how these novelists handle plots and characters and keep readers reading. But the closure is the important thing, even if it’s only in my thoughts and not in the world I see on the news. Perhaps these books are my heroin. Or maybe they’re the Drano that flushes out my anger at both the criminals and the government for (a) creating problems that harm us all, and (b) for creating regulations that compromise our privacy and other rights in exchange for more security.

Some people turn to booze, some to sex, some to violent sports, some to drugs, some to music, and others to staying late at the office when they really don’t need to ignore their families and stay late at the office. We all have our ways of coping with the realities around us that are over the top. I can’t say that these methods, or reading James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are the best possible solutions.

But until we find and implement the best possible solutions, these escapes keep many of us out of mental institutions. I can’t say I’m proud of that, but I do feel better after flushing a lot of my frustrations about the way the world works out of my system with a slam-bang novel. And when my frustrations are flushed out, I’m less tempted to go over to the dark side.

Malcolm