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

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

 

 

 

 

Free Kindle Book: ‘Mountain Song’

My novel about a young Montana resident with a dysfunctional family who falls I love with a young Florida woman while they’re working as seasonal employees in Glacier National Park will be free on Kindle May 13 through May 17 (Pacific Time).

Mountain Sing Description: 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?

Author’s Confession: I’ve never figured out quite how to properly list this book on Amazon or even promote it properly. (You can tell by the lack of reviews.) I should be able to do better because it’s based in part on my own experiences as a seasonal employee at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. Perhaps I know the story too well. However, if you download a copy and enjoy the book, an Amazon review would be great.

I also used this hotel as the primary setting in my contemporary fantasy The Sun Singer.  Mountain Song, however, is primarily realism with some touches of magic.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

Ad Hoc Writing Research

If I were writing historical novels, I would probably do a lot of research before I even committed to writing each book. My novels are written without an ourline or any idea how they will end up. This means I do the research for each scene when I get to it. While the novel in progress is set in 1955, the fact that I was an elementary school kid in that year doesn’t mean I know a lot about the time period.

So, it’s time to Google everything.

  • The last scene took place at a grocery store. Okay, when somebody entered the store, what kinds of posters, die-cut signs, and hand-written specials did they see on the window sill or window? I found a great Noxzema suburn cream sign, a nice Planters Peanuts poster, and a list of the meat prices per pound.
  • The current scene takes place in the backyard of some well-to-do people. While we had cheap pre-Weber metal barbecue, the fru fru people often had barbecue grills made of brick, 44 inches wide are larger.
  • What are they having to eat? I knew part of this already, but did a bit of online checking. The menu: porterhouse steak, corn, collards with ham hocks, baked potatoes, corn bread, and macaroni salad. The men are drinking either Jax Beer or Old Overholt Rye whiskey. I would enjoy all of this except for the Rye which I never liked.
  • The family wanted music. So, after verifying that long playing records were, in fact, available in 1955 AND that RCA had a three-in-one (78, 45, and 33 and 1/3 rpm) record player, I needed to make sure they had something to listen to. Since the men in the family are KKK members, they won’t be listening to jazz, blues, or gospel. Glenn Miller seemed like a safe choice.
  • Now, if I can, I’d like to find out how long each of the tracks is so I can time the action with which song would be playing at five minutes into the dinner and ten minutes into the dinner, etc.  (I did this once before when I timed the cuts on a Scott Joplin CD with a ride between Tallahassee and St. Marks, Florida. Probably nobody checks these things, but I wanted to know what song would be playing as Emily and her father (in Widely Scattered Ghosts) reached various landmarks along the way. Heck, I even check the weather reports for the dates and cities where my novels are set to make the weather in the novel the same as it was in “real life.”

Okay, I only have one more thing to check. What happens if somebody gets shot in the arm with a target arrow? There’s so little history taught in med school, that doctors can’t tell me what they would have done in 1955. I was e-mailing back and forth with a medical museum curator who admitted that doctors seem to believe that their speciality “rose like a Phoenix out of the ashes of ignorance” just before they got out of medical school. So, on treatment, I need to skirt around the specifics I don’t know. I’m not happy about that, but as Vonnegut always said, “so it goes.”

Malcolm

 

 

Review: ‘Iron House’ by John Hart

Iron HouseIron House by John Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Hart’s books are among the darkest I’ve read, and “Iron House” is no exception. The story begins with an orphanage where the amenities are few, care and supervision is lapse, and groups of bullies rule the corridors and terrorize the weaker children. The darkness doesn’t begin or end here. The story features an assortment of characters nobody will like, the cruel upbringings where they were reared, and the violent lives many of them wore like armor in order to survive.

Michael has lived on the streets of New York as part of an organized crime organization that is feared above all others. When he falls in love with Elena, he wants a fresh start. However, his “colleagues” don’t want him to have any rest other than a grave. Michael is efficient, practical, and savvy, but as the plot turns in on itself with dark secrets falling like dominoes, he may not be strong enough to solve the mysteries that stand between him and saving those he loves–including Elena.

I’ve given the book four stars because I think some of the descriptions of violence and torture are excessive. However, those scenes do show the total inhumanity and animal nature of the bad guys, so they’re not totally out of place in the novel. The novel has two strong points in addition to the strong characters. First, it keeps the reader guessing because the mysteries and secrets get deeper and darker as the complex plot unfolds; second, the main characters, Michael, Elena, and Michael’s long-lost brother Julien are always at risk–and with each breath of air, the risk becomes greater as the story proceeds.

The novel shows the worst of human nature on many fronts–and perhaps the often misguided best.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande,” all of which you can find on Bookshop.org.

I’m tempting you with excerpts

A note from your sponsor (AKA, me).

Short Story Excerpts

“Shock Treatment” in “Stories that Need to Be Told”

“They drove him westward away from Tallahassee’s safe hills, westward through the panhandle counties where King Cotton once reigned, westward through pine flatwoods where wiregrass and fire sustained the world, through Quincy where Coca Cola money brought prosperity one hundred years ago, through Chattahoochee where a psychiatric hospital of some controversy and the Apalachicola River provided conflicting approaches of respite to the world’s cares, through Marianna where both Florida’s Caverns and the now-shuttered reform school were out of sight and out of mind, and thence straight on to the uninspiring Georgian plantation house where Mistress Harkness died of melancholia waiting for her husband to return from the Civil War.”

“The Lady of the Blue Hour” in “Widely Scattered Ghosts”

“On the band bus ride home, the stunning, first chair flute player Melinda Wallace sat beside him. She had no clue how he felt about her, not that he’d said anything. The empty aisle seat next to a clarinet was, he guessed, preferable to sitting in the back with the band’s borderline criminal element of raucous drums and tarnished brass. Melinda smelled like wildflowers and her unruly light brown hair smelled like the wind. When the band played ‘The Stars and Stripes’ Forever’ in concert and Melinda stood up into the light for her piccolo solo—the sweetest banshee cries the world has ever known—her blue eyes were frozen into ice for thirty-two measures of leaps and trills, while her hair could not be restrained.”

Novel Excerpts

Special Investigative Reporter

Jock poured a fist full of Scotch into an empty coffee mug. That’s when Chief Kruller opened the front door and stepped into the living room without knocking. Fortunately, he wasn’t leading a SWAT team or holding a warrant. He did have a 9 x 12’ mailing envelope in his hand and a smile on his face that was wide enough to display most of his cavities.

“Sorry to bust in on you like this, Jock, but your doorbell isn’t working,” said Kruller, slipping into the best chair in the room. He favored himself with a deep pull on the Scotch bottle.

“The bell usually works when somebody on the porch pushes the button.”

“Good point,” said the chief. “Here, take a look at this morning’s crime scene photograph.”

“Oh, this makes my day,” said Jock. He set down the mug of Scotch to keep from spilling it all over the boss man who, in more detail than anyone really wanted, was handcuffed spread eagle to Bambi’s bed wearing a pink thong. Jock did a quick re-write of his thoughts to clarify that one Marcus Cash was wearing the thong and that, other than the fact Bambi was standing in the foreground wearing a Cat Woman outfit, he had no proof it was actually her bed.

“She lost the key,” said Kruller. “Marcus probably swallowed the damn thing.”

Lena

“Momentarily, but no longer, the swamp was quiet before the voices of the birds returned and spoke of secret things in the cone-laden Bald Cypress and plum laden Ogeechee Tupelo branches beneath clouds carrying late afternoon storms. Spanish moss on the larger limbs fluttered like waking storm flags. Sheltered from the wind, scattered white and maroon dropwort flowers—Willie called it “cowbane”—rocked gently in their cradles of low scrubs and grasses.

“I knew from my dream travels that two swamps existed together, one that stopped short of the Apalachicola River and one that lived and breathed westward past night and death until it touched the boundary of the afterlife that Eulalie called “the Pearly Gates.” I didn’t think my conjured woman had crossed the great river.

“The gasoline-tainted water holding the trucks was foul, and that meant searching it quickly in spite the murky sediments Hoskins stirred up in his frantic thrashing about. I did not find Eulalie there. I followed the current into large mats of duckweed where progress was slower. By the time the rains came and chased me back to the road, I had found no conjure woman or gator bait traces there.

“When the swamp grew dark, a limpkin screamed near the river like a child dying again and again. Tree frogs sang, basses, altos, trebles, and tenors. Eulalie once said nighttime frogs praised the good Lord with voices as pure as sacred harp singers standing in a hollow square. In the center of that square of voices and old trees, I could not sleep, but not for the singing. The events of the day weighed heavily on my heart. Without sleep, I was blind to what a dreamtime journey could show—whether my conjure woman had lived or died.”

Thank you for reading,

Malcolm

 

Unread book on my shelf is an unexpected gift

“And gradually it dawned on him, if a dawning can take place in total blackness, that his life has consisted of a run of rehearsals for a play he had failed to take part in. And that what he needed to do from now on, if there was going to be a now on, was abandon his morbid quest for order and treat himself to a little chaos, on the grounds that while order was demonstrably no substitute for happiness, chaos might open the way to it.” – The Night Manager.

Best I can tell is that I bought a trade paperback copy of John le Carré’s The Night Manager in 1993 when it came out, put it on my bookshelf, and forgot about it. I have no idea how or why it ended up on the shelf without being read. I lived in an Atlanta suburb at the time and was apparently more focused on the one-hour commutes to a variety of technology companies where I wrote computer documentation and occasional code than reading novels.

Like most of the author’s fans, I wondered how he would focus his spy novels once the cold war was over. The Night Manager was the first book with a different kind of plot: unscrupulous international arms dealers. The book was generally a success, though Publishers Weekly said at the time that it ended in a way that would make a sequel easy to write.

I’m enjoying the book, a change of pace from the more straightforward, technology-intensive spy novels by such authors as Clancy and Patterson  (and those writing under their names) because the plot is not strictly linear. Nobody needed to worry about le Carré running out of subject matter in the 1990s for now, at 88, his new novel Agent Running in the Field demonstrates that there’s still room in the fictional universe for spies and those who write about them. As an author, I’m impressed with anyone his age who is still writing.

I never saw any of the episodes of the 2016 TV series based on this book. I’m glad I didn’t, for that would have spoilt the gift of finding an unread book on my shelves that I didn’t already know lock, stock, and barrel.  The TV series starred Tom Hiddleston in the lead role as the night manager and also included Hugh Laurie (“House”).

Publishers Weekly liked the book, saying that it was “written with all le Carre’s mastery of atmosphere, character and desperate political infighting among the smoothest of Old School Brits.” I agree. And it’s refreshing to read a spy novel that doesn’t include the manufacturer’s specs of every gun, helo, suppressor, and piece of surveillance gear used by the operatives.

What fun, though, to find a “new book” that didn’t cost me $25 on Amazon.

Malcolm

 

 

Re-Reading Les Misérables at My Age: I Must Be Nuts

During the summer and fall, I’ve been re-reading a lot of the novels on my shelves. It’s been fun. Re-reading Les Misérables has not been fun. I think all the radiation treatments have not only left me feeling fatigued, but they’ve disrupted my ability to concentrate on long books.

When I bought this paperback edition in the 1980s, I read the whole thing, including the longer-than-necessary descriptions, political diversions, character background, and interior monologue. I was pleased that I stuck with it then just as I was pleased when I once completed mountain climbs to 14,000 feet and hikes of 25 miles or more without needing to go to the hospital afterwards. Like most people, I was younger then.

I still like the plot, many of the descriptive turns of phrase, and the snarky wit. But when it comes down to it, trying to read this novel today is about as absurd as trying to hike the Appalachian Trail without getting in shape first with neighborhood walks and shorter hikes. I’m on page 283of 1,463. If this were the Appalachian Trail, I’d be dead by now or lying at the bottom of a steep slope waiting to hear the welcome sounds of rescue helicopters.

To use an old phrase, I think I’m going to “cry uncle” on this attempt and put the book back on the shelf where it will impress all who see it rather like a photo of me standing at the summit of Mt. Everest or K2.

As Wikipedia notes, “More than a quarter of the novel—by one count 955 of 2,783 pages—is devoted to essays that argue a moral point or display Hugo’s encyclopedic knowledge, but do not advance the plot, nor even a subplot, a method Hugo used in such other works as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Toilers of the Sea.” Yes, I suppose I could push forward and scan those sections, but the type is small (note the smaller page count on my version when compared to the original) and that seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

My attention span at present is more suited for watching Survivor or NCIS on TV or a Clancy/Patterson style novel that moves along with large print, lots of action, and is over before you know it. To use a Survivor tradition, if some of Hugo’s characters had gotten voted out of the novel at tribal council, it would be a lot easier to read now.

Sure, I feel disappointed just like any other beer-drinking couch potato who spends a ton of money to get to Mt. Everest and learns that s/he doesn’t even have the stamina to make it up to base camp.

Have any of you read this novel? If you did, how much of it did you skim through? (Asking for a friend.)

Malcolm

I’m very appreciative of the wonderful reviews from listeners who found this audiobook, enjoyed the story, and loved actress Kelley Hazen’s narration. 

Excerpt: ‘LOCAL AUTHOR APOLOGIZES FOR MAKING VIXEN IN NOVEL TOO MUCH LIKE NEIGHBORHOOD VIXEN’

Here’s a brief excerpt from Special Investigative Reporter:

“When he got to the office, the clerk at the information desk told him Marcus wanted him to cover the Cane Molasses press conference over at the Main Street Book Emporium. He (Jock) would know that already if he bothered to answer his phone. Cash had, apparently, left for the day when a police officer located the pickup truck at his house. (The receptionist said she didn’t know whose house she was talking about.)

“After the press conference, he went home and slapped together a news story while waiting for a goat cheese and anchovy pizza to arrive:

 

LOCAL AUTHOR APOLOGIZES FOR MAKING VIXEN IN NOVEL TOO MUCH LIKE NEIGHBORHOOD VIXEN

Cane Molasses apologized at a hastily called press conference here this afternoon to “any and all women” who believe they are or might be the Judy Miracle character in his prize-winning 2008 novel Miracle on 35th Street.

Molasses called the press conference and book signing at the Main Street Book Emporium after an unidentified woman accosted him at his home this morning and accused him of basing the Miracle character on secrets she told him when they stopped for drinks on the way home from an AA meeting.

“I’m involved with dozens of women a year for research purposes,” said Molasses, “and all of them are well compensated. Miracle is a composite character based on Carl Jung’s reformed hooker archetype which is extensively described in his collected works.”

Molasses told the crowd of some 500 adoring fans and one heckler that Miracle is a beautiful fictional character who sees the light just in time to be buried in a high-brow cemetery on 35th Street. While many of his fans purportedly model their lives on Miracle’s story, it was not his intent to suggest Miracle is either every woman or any specific woman.

According to Police Sergeant Wayne Bismarck, nobody was seen leaving the Kroger Store on Edwards Street wearing a sack over their head “any time in recent memory.”

-30-

 

As he finished the story, the pizzeria called and apologized for not sending out the pizza he wanted. Apparently, everyone who tried to make such a thing got sick. He thanked them for their trouble, canceled the order, and ate two diet TV dinners with a glass or two (he lost count after two) of Cabernet.

It was the kind of wine a restaurant like the Purple Platter bought in 55-gallon drums, then used for filling bottles with an “estate bottled” Purple Platter label.

Copyright © 2019 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Review: ‘Only Charlotte’ by Rosemary Poole-Carter

Only CharlotteOnly Charlotte by Rosemary Poole-Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rosemary-Poole-Carter, an adept within the Southern Gothic genre, brings us a deliciously tangled post Civil War novel in Only Charlotte in which three intertwined lives–Leonore James, her brother Dr. Gilbert Crew, and Charlotte Eden–rise and fall like storm-tossed lily pads in the brackish waters of the swampy morals of New Orleans.

Thrice-married Lenore (who is now alone again) opens up her house to her younger brother who uses it as a base for establishing a medical practice. In sections narrated by both Lenore and Gilbert, we see that the young doctor has become infatuated with Charlotte while treating her children. At the outset, Lenore sees nothing less than catastrophe coming out of this while Gilbert sees a young wife whose troubles go deeper than is generally known.

Lenore and Gilbert grow in sense and sensibility throughout this novel. Lenore, who sees herself somewhat in the role of Paulina in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is especially cautious about the problems Charlotte may or may not face because she is older than her volatile brother and well-schooled in the society’s rules and traditions. In a sense, Gilbert has a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach that might be based on his obvious love for Charlotte more than on the actual dangers she faces.

The novel is perfectly paced in a manner befitting a southern gothic novel, brings us multi-dimensional characters who have the capacity for change in an era in which “stagnant” and “corrupt” are watchwords, and a twisted mystery that is like a spiderweb in the dark. The prose is lyrical and exceptional and historically well-grounded in this highly recommended novel.

View all my reviews

Malcolm