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Posts from the ‘fiction’ Category

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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