Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Florida’ Category

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

 

Advertisements

Florida’s Oyster Reef Restoration Program

“Along Florida’s coasts, oysters play a vitally-important role in supporting healthy estuaries. Oyster reefs provide multiple benefits, from providing habitat and food for wildlife, to filtering water, removing nitrogen, and stabilizing eroding coastlines. Oysters are also a favorite cuisine for people and Florida once had robust oyster fisheries in many areas throughout the state.

“’Oysters are the quiet, unsung heroes of our estuaries, working hard every day to protect our coasts, clean our waters, feed and shelter fish, birds, crabs, shrimp and other wildlife,’” said Anne Birch, marine program manager for The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “When we help to restore and conserve oyster habitat and support the fishery we’re also helping our estuaries and our coastal communities flourish.”

Source: Florida’s Oyster Reef Restoration Program

Storms, reduced river water flows, and pollution are taking their toll on oysters, including those along the Florida Panhandle’s gulf coast where I grew up and where I’ve set many of my books. I’m happy to see that the Nature Conservancy chose to study and solve this problem–one that’s worldwide, actually.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida Panhandle books include “Widely Scattered Ghosts” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Magnolia Florida, long gone and almost forgotten

“Magnolia, Florida was a thriving river port town in southern Wakulla County, Florida (until 1843, Leon County, Florida), established in the 1820s and is classified as an “extinct city” by the State Library and Archives of Florida. All that remains of the city is the rundown cemetery – the last known burial was in 1859.[1] The cemetery is on land now owned by the St. Joe Paper Company. The town was located near the small city of St. Marks, Florida.” – Wikipedia

People Playing Croquet in Magnolia – Florida Memory Project photo

When I was little, the old-timers in Tallahassee, Florida spoke of the extinct town of Magnolia, south of town on the St. Marks River, that developers once hoped would be a port city for cotton and other products.

There was nothing left of the town but a small cemetery that local ghost enthusiasts claimed was haunted. If you live in Tallahassee now and have been around for a while, you might recall that between 1963 and 1977, Elizabeth F. Smith captured the spirit of the area in her publication “The Magnolia Monthly” out of Crawfordville, Florida.

Magnolia–not to be confused with Magnolia Springs in Florida’s Clay county–was well-planned, but failed because the Railroad needed for its survival bypassed it and went to St. Marks instead. The town was founded by the Ladd family which you can learn more about here.

The remains of that railroad came up for sale when I was younger, and I thought then that it would make a nice tourist attraction. Never happened, for better or worse, though it might have improved the financial status of Wakulla County.

But my fascination for the town, the river, and the slash pine forests owned by the paper company stayed with me. I mention the town in my short story “Sweetbay Magnolia” in my new short story collection Widely Scattered Ghosts. In fact, the grandmother in the story had a house in Magnolia and the sweetbay magnolia in her back yard reminds her of old days and old loves.

As always, it’s the real places that get my attention.

–Malcolm

All that remains of the town. Florida Memory Project photo.

 

 

 

1950s Florida – Panhandle Images

Wikipedia Graphic

The Florida Panhandle, an informal, unofficial term for the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Florida, is a strip of land roughly 200 miles long and 50 to 100 miles wide (320 km by 80 to 160 km), lying between Alabama on the north and the west, Georgia also on the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Its eastern boundary is arbitrarily defined. – Wikipedia

My books are set in the Florida Panhandle because that’s where I grew up, learned the lay of the land, and heard the old stories. I lived in Tallahassee which is sometimes considered part of the panhandle and sometimes considered part of the “Big Bend.”

The panhandle is often viewed as more like Georgia than the peninsula part of the state. Panhandle residents often think the peninsula with its tourist attractions has been ruined by overdevelopment and destinations that either don’t belong there or are caricatures of the once wild land they displaced.

The Panhandle features white sandy beaches, often called The Redneck Riviera, but now generally in advertising and promotion are referenced as “The Emerald Coast.”

If you sample the beaches of the Emerald Coast and the Atlantic Coast, you’ll notice that most of the Emerald Coast isn’t covered with the kind of excessive development such as that found around Daytona Beach and other cities. (Gosh, I hope I don’t sound biased.) You’ll also notice the sand, is pure white, in fact blindingly white making sunglasses highly desirable. This sand is much different than the coarser sand of the Atlantic Coast.

Florida Memory Photo

 

According to Wikipedia, “The Apalachicola River /æpəlætʃɪˈkoʊlə/ is a river, approximately 112 mi (180 km) long in the State of Florida. The river’s large watershed, known as the ACF River Basin, drains an area of approximately 19,500 square miles (50,505 km2) into the Gulf of Mexico. The distance to its farthest head waters in northeast Georgia is approximately 500 miles (800 km). Its name comes from the Apalachicola people, who used to live along the river.”

The river is not only a recreation spot, but highly important in the watershed’s environment as well as the oyster industry in the Gulf Coast town of Apalachicoa. Water usage of the river between Georgia and Florida has been under dispute for years, with Florida saying that Atlanta draws off too much water at Florida’s expense.

Florida Forest Service Photo

According to the Florida Forest Service, “The natural resources found on Tate’s Hell State Forest are very diverse due to the unique and various natural community types. At one time Tate’s Hell State Forest supported at least 12 major community types, which included wet flatwoods, wet prairie, seepage slope, baygall, floodplain forest, floodplain swamp, basin swamp, upland hardwood forest, sandhill, pine ridges, dense titi thickets and scrub. Currently, the forest contains approximately 107,300 acres of hydric communities such as wet prairie (contains a vast diversity of plant species), wet flatwoods, strand swamp, bottomland forest, baygall and floodplain swamp.”

The area is under restoration to repair damages from the forest’s long-time usage by the a timber industry that logged out many of the older trees, disrupted natural waterflows throughout the region by constructing roads that served as dykes, and a rape the land style of forest management.

Wikipedia Photo

 

The logging industry also had very poor stewardship over the Panhandle’s once ubiquitous wiregrass and longleaf pine forsts, cutting out the old trees and either not replacing them or replacing cut areas with slash pines. Many native species have been threatened by this policy. The forest service was very slow to understand what Native Americans and early residents understood: longleaf pine forests need fire to survive. For years, fires were extinguished before natural processes could be completed.

Florida Memory Photo

These boats still exist, but I see the 1950s as the heyday of the cabin cruiser. Most of us knew somebody who owned one, and fortunately those people liked to cruise the rivers, head to obscure beaches, and visit the barrier islands (St. George Island and Dog Island).

Florida Memory Photo

 

The Garden of Eden was once a tourist attraction near the small town of Bristol with signs pointing to places where Biblical events purportedly occurred. A local minister worked out a rather complex theory that sought to prove this spot along the Apalachicola River was the real garden of Eden. The signs are gone now, though a Garden of Eden trail still exists. The unique habitat is managed by the Nature Conservancy as the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.

Florida Memory Photo

 

The St. Joe Paper Company was a major economic player in the economy of the Florida Panhandle and probably the area’s largest landowner. Like the Florida East Coast Railway (the old Flagler system route to Key West), the company was owned by Dupont. The tracks that remain are now used by a shortline railroad (Apalachicola Northern) between Port St. Joe on the Gulf coast the town of Chattahoochee near the Georgia Border.

Google Maps

 

This is where I grew up. You can see the barrier islands just south of Carrabelle and Apalachicola. My friends and I sailed boats between beaches near the junction of highways 319 and 98 to those islands, and my scout troop camped there and in many spots in the Apalachicoa National Forest. The wildlife refuge near St. Marks was a favorite family day trip. My Florida Folk Magic Novels are set near the towns of Hosford and Telogia. The area is rich in history, myths, habitats, recreation, and experiences perfect for a kid growing up who loved being out doors more than indoors.

–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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The place where I grew up is toast

“Hurricane Michael was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States in terms of pressure, behind the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille of 1969. It was also the strongest in terms of maximum sustained wind speed to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992. In addition, it was the strongest on record in the Florida Panhandle, and was the fourth-strongest landfalling hurricane in the contiguous United States, in terms of wind speed”. – Wikipedia

I cannot help but follow the weather maps and news about Hurricane Michael. When referring to Mexico Beach and Panama City, Florida, the word “catastrophe” is often used. I grew up in Tallahassee which is about 20 miles from the coast. We spent many hours along the coast from St. Marks to Alligator Point to Carrabelle to Apalachicola. We seldom went to Panama City because–even then–it routinely filled up with tourists. I’d never been to Mexico Beach.

The photographs, as editors keep saying, look like a war zone. I’ve seen this before, but not on this scale in Florida. It’s a miniature Katrina. We saw most of the affected coastline as kids from speedboats and sailboats. We spent many hours at a St. Theresa beach cottage owned by good friends. I hope it’s still there. It’s hard to look at all this in news pictures just as it’s hard to look at Glacier National Park wildfire stories in news pictures.

Not that I could do anything if I were there, but I feel like I should be there even though I’ve been away from the Florida Panhandle for so many years, I know very few people there anymore. Yet, there’s something special about the places where we grew up and/or spent a lot of time that draws us to them when the people there are in trouble.

The area where Michael hit has often been called “the forgotten coast” because most of the tourism and development were elsewhere. In that sense, I have always been happy it was forgotten because I didn’t want it to attract the commercialized mess of places like Daytona Beach. But now, I hope that FEMA programs and agencies that help with rebuilding places after so-called acts of God don’t forget the forgotten coast.

–Malcolm

 

 

Florida in Pictures – Tallahassee’s oldest church

The First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee is the capital’s oldest building in continual use. It was dedicated in 1838. Atypical in the South, the church accepted slaves as members who sat in a balcony that runs along three sides of the sanctuary’s “second floor.” Earlier, the church served as a refuge during the Seminole Wars and then, in the 1960s, as a leader in the civil rights movement.

I was a member of this church during my K-12 years in Tallahassee. My brothers and I were also members of Boy Scout Troop 101 sponsored by the church during those years. All three of us became Eagle Scouts, so it saddens me that the church at some point ended its association with scouting. It also saddened me when a large number of members who disagreed with the church’s civil rights stance split off during the mid-1960s and formed a new church.

The church is on the National Register of Historic Places where its Gothic Revival architecture is noted. The foundation included rifle slots that, by now, have probably been covered over. In contrast, solar panels now provide a portion of the church’s power and were–in 2010–considered the county’s second-largest solar panel array.

My father, Laurence, wrote the church’s sesquicentennial booklet of poems called “The Future of Old First in 1982.” He had, in earlier years, been a deacon, elder, Cub Scout pack leader, and explorer post leader.

The photograph shown here was taken sometime in the 1800s:

Florida Memory Photo

The church as it appears today, with the Methodist Church in the background and the church’s education building on the right hand side of the picture:

 

I don’t know if the church ever rings the bell in the steeple these days. At some point, the steeple was renovated and those of us attending Sunday school classes were allowed to ring the bell on Sunday mornings. The bellrope was accessed through a trap door above the balcony pews just above the church’s narthex. Everyone wanted to ring the bell! We loved it for its old fashioned sound, a sound out of history.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida Folk Magic novels are set in the panhandle west of Tallahassee.

 

 

 

Florida in Pictures – Sea Oats and Sand

The sandy beaches of the Florida Panhandle are usually white and flanked by sand dunes covered with sea oats and sand spurs. Sand spurs are annoying because they, like spurs, grab on to your legs or your clothes. Sea Oats are graceful and protected. Pick one, and you might go to jail. Our panhandle beaches look quite a bit different than the multi-colored sand you might see south of Jacksonville. The sea oats add to the ambiance.

 

Florida Memory Photo

 

Wikipedia’s definition is accurate, I think: Uniola paniculata or sea oats, also known as seaside oats, araña, and arroz de costa, is a tall subtropical grass that is an important component of coastal sand dune and beach plant communities in the southeastern United States, eastern Mexico and some Caribbean islands. Its large seed heads that turn golden brown in late summer give the plant its common name. Its tall leaves trap wind-blown sand and promote sand dune growth, while its deep roots and extensive rhizomes act to stabilize them, so the plant helps protect beaches and property from damage due to high winds, storm surges and tides. It also provides food and habitat for birds, small animals and insects.

Trust me. You don’t want this in your yard. Wikipedia photo.

You can buy sea oats from nurseries but you can’t steal them from the beach. Frankly, when I was growing up here, it never occurred to me to pick the sea oats, much less buy them. They do stabilize the dunes and are an important part of the ecosystem. However, if you were to buy your own for your yard, you can use them to make bread.

As for the sand spurs, I think the devil made them.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of novels set in the Florida Panhandle, including “Lena,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Florida in Pictures – Those bulkhead flatcars

The covers of all three books in my Florida Folk Magic Series feature a railroad crossing usually with bulkhead flatcars on it. First, the Apalachicola Northern Railway operated in the Florida Panhandle county where my stories are set. It still exists today as a shortline called AN Railway, operating between Chattachochee, Florida and Port St. Joe, Florida on the gulf coast. In the 1950s, as now, the line carried wood products, frequently in bulkhead flatcars.

The second reason for the cover picture refers to the age-old belief–which became part of hoodoo–that crossroads and crossings were dangerous places over and above the possibility for wrecks. Either bandits were there or spirits were there. So, great care had to be taken.

The car on the right is a bulkhead flat. – Florida Memory Photograph

Some of my railroad references in the books come from the fact that I was a volunteer at a Georgia railway museum that had operating trains as well as many historic examples of older operating equipment, including a bulkhead flat. As you can see from the photo, the bulkheads at each end of the flatcar helped contain the logs or other materials being hauled. In a part of the country where lumber and other wood products were important, these cars were a natural to mention in the books.

–Malcolm