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Posts from the ‘fiction’ Category

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

 

 

Thank you

I appreciate the 486 people who have entered the GoodReads giveaway for a paperback copy of Lena. The giveaway runs through November 10th. I enter these kinds of giveaways, too, and have won a free book several times. So, winning is possible.

If you win, I hope you enjoy the book. Lena is the third and final novel in my Florida Folk Magic trilogy.

Ghosts

Meanwhile, my publisher and I are putting together a collection of ghost stories to be called Widely Scattered Ghosts. I’ve been writing another story for the collection, this one set in an old theater. The story is based on a real theater in Florida that those in the ghost hunter business claim is haunted. The main character is named Emily. She appeared in my collection called Emily’s Stories, now out of print except in translation and audiobook editions.

Boxed Set

Amazon Kindle cover.

If you haven’t read any of the Lena and Eulalie stories, you might consider buying the three novels in a boxed set. This is cheaper than buying Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena separately. The edition is available in Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.

I’m hopeful we will find a narrator for a Lena audiobook. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the collection of all three novels in this recently released e-book.

As for those who have been asking, there isn’t going to be the fourth book in this trilogy. There might be a related story, but I think the Lena and Eulalie stories have reached a natural conclusion. Authors always have to figure out when they’ve written all they need to write with one group of characters or another. What we don’t want to do is write a story too far; that is to say, writing past the stories we intended to tell.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing fast and loose with the supernatural

A few days ago I saw a discussion among readers of so-called cozy, witchy romances in which most of the fans preferred fantasy versions of witchcraft over novels that made even a lightweight attempt at reality. What we’re talking about here is contemporary fantasy, stories that take place within our own world as opposed to those set on another planet.

This is what I find when I search for witchcraft on a clip art service. While it’s what we think, it isn’t reality.

Wisely, I think, I said nothing. I’ve read a few of those cozy witchcraft novels and, even though the storylines were interesting, my primary thought was that the authors were playing fast and loose with the supernatural. That is, the stories had little or nothing to do with either real Wicca or real traditional witchcraft. The witches in the stories were given powers and rituals that real witches don’t have OR they continued to follow the long-time portrayals (by Hollywood and the Christian Church) of witches as satan worshippers.

While that’s a convenient approach, it’s about as irresponsible as telling a story about–say, the Presbyterian Church or General Motors or Walmart that doesn’t stick to established facts about these organizations. Yes, I know, if makes novels more exciting if a Presbyterian a minister has a wand and can use spells out of the Harry Potter books. But it’s false.

The practices of real witches are very tame when compared to the cozy romances and horror novels written about them. Maybe that’s why authors and a lot of readers like the phony fantasy versions. During the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when the triple feature horror-rama presentations at drive-in theaters were doing big business, the silver screen was awash in symbols from multiple religions and belief systems that–for the sake of a scary story–were turned into a cesspool of evil to earn a buck.

In addition to witches, mystics, shamen, psychics, healers, herbalists, visionaries, and others have been slandered by the mainstream as people associated with evil and/or scams of one kind or another. This has given authors and filmmakers an “anything goes” license to make up whatever nastiness they want about the supernatural and those who believe in it. You may think the Salem witchcraft trials are far away, but the attitude behind them is still with us.

Humans seem predisposed to distrust anyone they can label as “other.” Most often, this ignorant habit focuses on other races, foreigners in general, and people from another part of the country. But it also includes witches, shamen, and healers. Why does this happen? Brainwashing from mainstream religions that routinely accuse people who don’t even believe in the devil as being worshippers of the devil. And, the fact that mixing long-time fears about the supernatural into a riveting movie or novel will bring in a lot of dollars.

The majority of our population seems to fall into two camps of people: (1) Those who believe the supernatural is bunk, and (2) Those who believe the supernatural is evil. If one ever pointed out that many church-going people believed in Christian (and other) mystics of the past, we were told that such people don’t exist now. Sure they do. They’ve been frightened into keeping quiet.

All of us have mental capabilities we can develop: hunches and premonitions, intuition about our ailments, feelings about our connections to the Earth as a living organism, and the ability to strongly influence the course of our lives. It’s sad that we overlook all of this because we’re told it’s evil or mindless superstition. So no, I don’t like those cozy witchy novels and Hollywood movies that play fast and loose with the supernatural because those things are holding us back.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic series that portray hoodoo as it really is.

 

 

 

Review: ‘Hope in the Shadows of War’ by Thomas Paul Reilly

When injured Vietnam War veteran Timothy O’Rourke returns home in 1973, an open wound accompanies him. Today, we might call it PTSD or survivor’s guilt. When his helicopter was shot down and then attacked by the Viet Cong on the ground, he was able to save one of the men with him–but not both. The prospective roles of fate, destiny, fairness, and second-guessing oneself plague him as surely as a virus

Vietnam War veteran Thomas Paul Reilly saw the war for himself and subsequently applied that knowledge and his degrees in psychology as an author (Value-Added Selling) and public speaker focusing on the importance of hope, attitude, and value. He effectively uses this background to create a realistic, yet troubled protagonist in this novel which will be released on Veterans Day.

In the chronicles of war and returning veterans, Timothy’s issues aren’t unique, but in an era where veterans’ issues were not well understood, he believes he is alone in trying to heal his psychological wounds. He’s attending college, works multiple jobs, drives a falling-apart old car, has a steady girlfriend named Cheryl, and remains one step ahead of bankruptcy. Friends and family either can’t or won’t help him when he’s confronted with unexpected expenses such as replacing the ancient furnace in his mother’s house where he is staying. Cheryl has money to lend, but he refuses to accept it.

Co-workers at a Christmas tree lot where he’s working to earn extra money tell him that college and dreams aren’t for “guys like us” and that he needs to quit college and get a real job. In almost every area of his life, he is without hope. Among other things, he’s driving away Cheryl, who unconditionally loves him, by constantly telling her he’s not good enough for her.

Reilly has created a character who epitomizes veterans who have reason to believe fate and their country are conspiring against them. Broke and in ill health (emotional or physical), they end up living on the streets as one of society’s festering wounds that seems impossible to heal. A co-worker, Hoffen, at the Christmas tree lot casually talks to Tim about hope, perseverance, and attitude. The man speaks like a sage down from the mountaintop, but will his advice be enough to convince Tim that the open wound he brought home from Vietnam will never heal until he lets it heal?

If Tim were in therapy, his analyst might ask him if he wants the wound to heal. His memory of the helicopter crash–which is well written and rings true–replays over and over as though he either wanted to be rescued from the wounds it caused or return to the scene and die along with the buddy he couldn’t save. Tim is a character who is easy to admire for his dilligent attempt to save his dream against great odds. He is less easy to like because his overly hopeless attitude, as demonstrated in his thoughts and his conversations with Cheryl and others, comes close to whining, justified though it may be.

The book would be stronger if the plot focussed on the major highs and lows of the story and left out the step-by-step “transcripts” of minor–or recurring–thoughts and actions. The inspiring ending would be stronger if readers felt that, other than his stubbornness, Tim had played a more active role in making it happen.

Reading Hope in the Shadows of War should be a cathartic experience for struggling veterans and those who want to understand veterans’ issues and motivations. This is the story’s strength. So is the message of hope from Hoffen and others. Readers will probably take that message with them after they finish the novel.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

The Florida Folk Magic Trilogy

When Lena, the third book in my 1950s-era Florida Folk Magic trilogy was released several weeks ago by Thomas-Jacob Publishing, I said, “Okay guys, the series is a trilogy, so y’all quit pestering me about another book.”

The series addresses the racism of the Black/White culture in the Florida Panhandle at a time when the state had a lot more Klan activity, lynchings, and firebombings than most people outside the area knew about. Snowbirds came down from the northern states and eastern Canadian provinces in droves for the sunshine state’s beaches and other attractions in the peninsula. For the most part, they didn’t know that the peninsula had its nasty problems and so did the panhandle.

I grew up in this culture and was very much aware of the KKK because they visited my minister’s house, the houses of my friends, and put on rallies and parades. I had liberal parents and went to a relatively liberal church, the first white church in Tallahassee that invited African Americans to its worship services. In those days, whites poked fun at hoodoo–I guess they still do–but I had a good teacher named Flora who worked as a maid at a friend’s house around the corner. She introduced me to great food, the ways and means of the other side of our two cultures thrown together, and many truths.

The result is my trilogy of three novels. In Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie–who is modeled after Flora–seeks justice for an assaulted Black girl when the police take no action. In Eulalie and Washerwoman, Eulalie battles against an evil conjure man who’s in league with the police and the town’s movers and shakers. In Lena, Eulalie goes missing and is presumed dead, leaving her family and her cat Lena in a state of confusion as the KKK threatens the town.

Lena is available in paperback and e-book from multiple online sites.  Eulalie and Washerwoman and Conjure Woman’s Cat are also available as audiobooks via Audible and Amazon. All three books can be ordered by bookstores from their Ingram catalogs under traditional store purchasing options.

The audiobook edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat received the prestigious Red Earphones Award from AudioFile magazine. Click on the earphones graphic to see the review. Click here to see AudioFile’s review of Eulalie and Washerwoman.

I hope you enjoy the series!

Malcolm

Review: ‘Doña Barbara’ by Rómulo Gallegos

Doña BarbaraDoña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps the greatest testimony to Rómulo Gallegos is the very rich literary prize named after him in honor of his work and influence. The prize has been awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Roberto Bolaño and other masterful authors whose powerful books are said to be the cornerstones of magical realism and South American literature.

Sadly, we seldom hear Gallegos’ 1929 novel “Doña Barbara” mentioned in the same company as the well-known books that have received the Gallegos prize. In his forward to the 2012 edition, Larry McMurtry writes that the novel “is in its way a paean to the Venezuelan Llano” a vast grassy plain that, in the novel, “is steamy, tumescent, lust driven.”

In “Doña Barbara,” the characters often say that the land does not relent. In fact, its horrible and fated barbarism and its magical and conscious beauty are as intertwined as surely as the destinies of the powerful female rancher Doña Barbara and the college educated and idealistic protagonist Santos Luzardos. When Luzardos returns to the Llano ranch, Altamira, of his distant youth, he finds that it has been depleted and nearly forsaken by incompetent, greedy overseers who couldn’t resist their complicity in Doña’s schemes. Through magic, sex, paid-off judges, and raw power, she has enlarged–at her neighbors’ expense–her adjoining ranch El Miedo (fear) into a sprawling country unto itself that expands outward through manifest destiny.

Readers may well be reminded of Luis Alberto Urrea’s “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” as they immerse their souls in “Doña Barbara,” because both novels view the land in epic proportions, beautifully described and inseparable from the lives of its people. The land is essentially the main character or, at the very least, an infinite circle of hell where the well-drawn, multi-dimensional characters are driven to kill or be killed as fate decrees.

Like two gladiators who have been chained together, Doña Barbara and Santos Luzardos cannot both survive in an enchanting, sadistic world where every action appears pre-ordained even when it isn’t. The novel ends the only way it can, but the story’s characters and readers won’t realize this until they reach the last chapter.

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Review: ‘The Store’ by Patterson and DiLallo

The StoreThe Store by James Patterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story idea is compelling and, what with people talking about privacy issues in an Internet world these days, the plot is also timely. Others here have already said they didn’t care for the writing. Definitely, not anywhere near the best of James Patterson branded novels.

The glaring trouble with the book is the ending. It’s a trick. The ending is based on the fact that certain things earlier in the novel aren’t what they seemed to be. The trouble is, when the ending occurs, the main character turns out to have known the whole time that those things weren’t what they seemed to be. The flaw here is that we are inside the main character’s head throughout the book and know what he’s thinking. There is no way a real person wouldn’t have thought about the on-going trickery at some point. The ending is only a surprise because the authors don’t allow the main character to think about something that he couldn’t help but think about. This is a very large point-of-view error.

In the Amazon/GoodReads review above, I don’t include a spoiler about what happened. In fairness to those who might enjoy this novel in spite of the trick, I’ll leave out the spoilers here as well.

Most publishers’ editors would have told the authors to fix the ending. Maybe they can’t say that to Patterson. However, it’s very jarring and unfair to the reader to conceal the main character’s thoughts about important matters from the readers unless the character is established as unreliable, suffering from amnesia, or hypnotized. None of these options were present in The Store.

The main character Jacob Brandeis participates throughout the story in a planned subterfuge but never once thinks about the fact that he–and others–are role playing. No real person would be capable of doing this. Outside of experimental fiction, no fictional character could help but think about what he’s doing while he’s doing it. With proper finesse and foreshadowing, an author might get around the problem of concealing the third person point-of-view character’s thoughts from the readers.

That was not done here, so we ended up feeling cheated–because we were.

Malcolm

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