Never go drinking with your muse

My muse and I recently went out to a local biker bar and slammed down a case of Budweiser and several guys wearing badass tattoos and dirty clothes who thought we didn’t belong there.

We probably shouldn’t have made fun of the bikers who were drinking lite beer or were riding Mopeds.

My muse does not look like this.

The good thing about going to a biker bar is this: nobody asks what you do for a job. They assume the answer is either nothing or something illegal and that asking is a good way to get beat up. Suffice it to say, biker bars don’t have Enya on the jukebox. So, don’t expect much empathy there.

The bad thing about drinking with your muse is that she doesn’t like excuses. When you explain why you haven’t been writing lately due to __________, she says “So what?”

Yes, I’m trying to juggle three writing projects at the same time. That’s a first for me. I don’t like it. When I try to tell my muse why I don’t like it, she laughs and comes up with profanity so bad I didn’t even hear it in the navy.

As I told another writer years ago, “I don’t have a muse because high school literature courses portrayed muses as women who looked like they were dying of consumption or thought they were princesses.”

After saying that, a lady named Siobhan showed up and announced that she was my muse. The first thing I learned was that if I mispronounced her name, she’d kick the crap out of me. The second thing I learned was that she’s more psychic than I am. (For those of you who didn’t grow up speaking Gaelic, her name is pronounced “Shivahn.”)

“I want the best for you and your writing,” she always tells me. My response is usually, “You’re the lady who invented tough love, right?”

After a few Buds, we’re saying things that shouldn’t be said. Yet, I have to say, muses are more forgiving than spouses. You can tell as muse to “_____ off,” and she’ll always be there. You can’t say that to your wife or husband.

Basically, my muse thinks I’m hiding behind the research. That is, that I’m doing research long after it no longer matters and that it’s time to start writing the story. Okay, she may have a point. I do have a tendency to over-research everything I write. Maybe that’s because I started out as a journalist and a technical writer. Or, maybe that’s because maintaining that I’m still doing research is a good way to avoid doing any real writing.

I don’t think I’m the only writer who does this even though I’d probably buy a Harley if the main character in one of my novels rode a Harley. Accuracy’s important, right?

My muse said, “that’s a crock.” She also said, “Why aren’t you writing the story yet?” My answer is always, “Because I’m scared that I can’t.” Suffice it to say, she doesn’t buy that.

Malcolm

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Music into the Silence

With over 70% of my hearing gone, I live my life in a fair amount of silence. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog since 2011, know that I used to select an album I liked and play it on a continuous loop while I worked on the manuscript for a novel.

Click on the image to see Deuter’s web site.

For The Sun Singer, the album was Georg Deuter’s “Nirvana Road.” For Sarabande, it was Mary Youngblood’s “Beneath the Raven Moon.” Deuter plays multiple instruments and his blending of them seemed to me very transcendent, a strong image I had for The Sun Singer. Mary Youngblood plays the Native American flute, and it speaks to me like a voice in the wilderness, at once a cry of pain and a hymn of praise, perfect for Sarabande. (I was listening while writing the first editions of both novels.)

I don’t recall how Youngblood found out about my use of “Beneath the Raven Moon” as a muse. Maybe “Google Alerts.” She contacted me, thanking me for enjoying and mentioning the recording. She said that since I already had that album, she would send me a copy of another album in exchange of a copy of Sarabande. So, we exchanged mailing addresses along with our latest work. I hope she had time to read it.

I have no words for describing what it meant to me to hear from her, for nobody plays the Native American flute better and every one of her albums spoke volumes to me. I was in a Blackfeet shop in Browning, Montana several years ago and one of the salespeople saw me looking at the flutes. When she asked if I wanted to buy one, I said, “Only if I start playing like Mary Youngblood.” She smiled and said, “Nobody plays like her.”

Click on the image to view her website.

I knew she had listened to Youngblood’s music because she not only knew the names of the songs but also held the opinion that Youngblood created voices with the flute that technically should be impossible to create. Sadly, I left the flute behind because I knew it would sound worse than a kazoo if I dishonored it by trying to play it.

Some years ago, I stopped playing albums while writing because I could no longer hear them. It was a loss because when I was listening to them, I never had writer’s block: the albums jumped started the writing every single time. I played Deuter’s and Youngblood’s albums so many times, that if I see (or recall) the name of a song, I can hear it within the silence of my imagination. Their albums are primarily instrumental, so there were no words to interrupt my chain of thought.

While writing the three novels in my Florida Folk Magic Trilogy, my imagination played the blues and gospel, primarily the same songs I mentioned in the novels. I grew up with the blues and gospel, in part from my parents’ 75 rpm records and partly from the appearances of many of the singers on early television variety shows. The one good thing about the music I hear into the silence in this way is that I can turn it up as loud as I want it without bothering either my wife or our two cats. It also hasn’t been ruined by today’s digital recording methods.

The blues in my imagination and memory were a very effective muse. When I was in high school and learned that Beethoven didn’t stop writing music when he lost his hearing. I didn’t understand how that was possible. Now I can.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Stories – Knowing what to leave out

“You need emotion to make a story compelling. But every story is really just a sequence of events that need to be told in the right order. Extraneous information slows a story down and can have people wondering about the ultimate point. It’s like telling a joke: You don’t go on detours about what the chicken was doing for the last three weeks before it crossed the road. You tell only the parts that propel the joke forward. The same applies to storytelling.” – Art of Charm

Campfires draw storytellers and audiences like moths to flames. The forest primeval, moon and stars, unknown animals hiding in the darkness, wind soughing through the trees, branches that snap, cries of birds, isolation from well-lit, safe, and civilized places, all these combine into a natural arena for the telling of tales.

If you read through sites like the Art of Charm, you’ll find many tips for telling a captivating story (with or without the campfire), including understanding that “Every story has an emotional core, and that emotional core is how the storyteller feels about the events they’re describing. Everything else is just window dressing.”

Don’t Duplicate Reality

Ineffective storytellers and those who can’t seem to tell a joke properly often think more is more. They not only put into too much window dressing but tell you how the windows were made and installed. The result is tedious because it’s not really a story, it’s a transcript.

While short passages of transcript-like, step-by-step narration can add impact, they usually destroy impact. They have all the excitement of a 24-hour webcam. The author and the storyteller must determine what’s not essential, what destroys the pacing, that dilutes the excitement and the fear and the derring-do.

Writing guidebooks frequently use the examples showing the difference between a recording of a real-life conversation and the same conversation as distilled by an author or a storyteller (because amateurs frequently believe that duplicating real life is the best way to convey a realistic story). While some say our lives are large-order stories, slices of life are not stories. For one thing, the reader/audience cannot spend the same amount of time reading or hearing a story as the same event took to unfold in front of that 24-hour webcam. Yes, you can say the webcam footage is real. But here’s the thing: real isn’t a story.

The successful author and captivating campfire storyteller will leave out most of that the webcam shows–or what their memories of the actual events they witnessed can recall. If you’re a reporter writing for a daily newspaper, you’ll take the most important moments of that webcam footage or that memory and put them first. Then you follow that up with increasingly minor details. That style is called the inverted pyramid because the most important stuff comes first.

Efficiently Moving from Beginning to End

The storyteller and the author do the exact opposite. They place the most important stuff at–or near the end–of their story or novel. As the story unfolds, the writer and the storyteller are very conscious about going from beginning to end in a dramatic way whether the story is driven by the plot or by a character. When thinking about what to leave in or leave out, the key is: does this fact, conversation, description, or thought propel the story forward? If not, it doesn’t belong there because it’s more transcript than art.

When a good editor says, “you need to tighten this up,” s/he means that the writer didn’t leave out enough of the stuff s/he should have left out and/or that even the important sentences are filled with extra words. When the Art of Charm says that the storyteller’s feelings about the story art important, we can take this advice in many ways. One way is that if the writer or storyteller doesn’t care, then neither will the readers or campfire audience. Another way is that when the writer or storyteller cares a lot, s/he will find it easier to pinpoint which “extra” scenes, descriptions, and dialogue weaken the tale-telling experience.

Knowing what to leave out is a true part of the art and craft of keeping the reader’s and listener’s participative attention.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the reviews to come in

In old movies about playwrights and stars, the cast and director and backers of a Broadway play had a cast party on opening night, after which they ended up at a bar or an all-night restaurant and waited for the morning papers to hit the streets with major reviews.  Those reviews could make or break the play. With fewer reviewers and newspapers these days, I don’t know if waiting for the reviews to come in is still a part of the opening night drama.

When a play goes on the road before its opening night in a major city, it often gets revised a lot before it’s final version appears, all this is based on audience reactions and the reviews in small-town papers.

Authors also wait for the reviews to come in. Major authors published by large presses know a lot about how their books are fairing–in terms of reviews–long before publication day. The publisher usually sends books out to major reviewers four to six months before they are published. In part, this is because the publications require it; and, in part, this allows blurbs from favorable reviews to appear on the book cover and sometimes on the first several pages.

Small press authors usually don’t have enough clout or name recognition to approach review sites like the New York Times, Book List, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus reviews and others. Also, we work on shorter time-frames, so the books aren’t going to be ready for reviews six months before they’re published. Truth be told, the books won’t even be completed so far in advance.

So, our version of the traditional all-night restaurant wait is checking Amazon for reader reviews. Sometimes, small-presses have relationships with blogging sites and smaller media outlets, but these reviews almost always appear weeks after a book is released.

The first book site review for Lena appeared today at Big Al’s Books and Pals. It’s a nice site with a number of reviewers and an interest in multiple genres. Their reviewer gave Lena five stars, saying (in part), “I have been looking forward to this book. At the end of Eulalie and Washerwoman Eulalie was leaving to fetch Willie back home. They’ve had a long-standing relationship and Eulalie was ready to take it to the next level. Being a romantic at heart I was ready for this relationship to move forward. So, what does Mr. Campbell do? He puts Eulalie in peril! Which in turn kept me reading late into the night.” (Click on the graphic to read the review.)

Whew. One hopes readers will like a new book, but I’m a bit superstitious about a series because I worry that those who liked earlier books might think the author lost his focus with the new book. So, I’m relieved that a review site I trust liked the book. One never knows what to expect. Readers liked the first book in the series, Conjure Woman’s Cat, and it ended up with 22 reader reviews on Amazon. People told me that the second book, Eulalie and Washerwoman was even better, but it only has seven reviews on Amazon. So, a writer never knows what to expect.

We do appreciate those reader reviews. The existence of those reviews play in to how Amazon displays our books. They also determine whether other sites will consider our books for review. Some sites won’t consider reviewing a book if it has fewer than ten Amazon reviews. So, those reviews matter to an author just as much as they matter to the director and cast of a Broadway play on opening night.

There’s a lot of waiting and uncertainty in the writing biz, so much so that betting on a novel is probably riskier than betting on a horse. Years ago, I bet on enough horses to know how things worked. I decided I didn’t make enough money to do that even though standing next to the rail near the finish line certainly was a rush. Books are a similar gamble.

Fortunately, writing a story is a rush even before we start waiting for the reviews to come in.

Malcolm 

 

 

 

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Some say that a writer begins a book and a reader finishes it. That is after the book has been written and published, readers either like it or they don’t and see in it one thing or another because it’s time for the writer to move on.

For the writer, it’s like breaking up with a lover.

S/he has to begin writing the next book. Not too quickly, though, or the next book will turn into a rebound kind of thing, ill-conceived and overly filled with everything the newly released book didn’t have.

Some writers have book projects stacked up in notebooks, each waiting to capture the writer’s time and heart. I don’t. Not that I go to bars looking for them or sign up with online dating outfits: “meet beautiful Russian ideas just waiting to please” or “sexy singles in your town hoping for marriage.”

No writer wants people to say s/he’s on the make. That seems, somehow trashy as though s/he’s going to turn to a beach read or the kinds of books you find in airports or worse yet a book on a street corner that might really be a vice cop waiting to grab the writer in a hurry.

It’s sad when a writer gets so desperate to move on from the break-up from his most recent book, that s/he picks up a bereaved idea from an accident scene or a funeral like a cheap lawyer chasing a client, any client. And then, too, there some writers apparently get drunk or go nuts and pick up an idea that’s young enough to be their son or daughter or, at best, arm candy that will lead nowhere good.

Then there are the matchmakers. They have an idea or know somebody at their church with an idea or play duplicate bridge in a group with a lot of sweet young ideas all of whom are God’s gift to the right writer. Some are desperate, while others are bitter and resigned to never making it into marriage, much less into print. Others are a little rough, but I’m told they’ll “clean up nice.”

If all this is drifting into the kind of post that sounds sexist, I should tell you that an author’s relationship with a book idea is in many ways like a love affair and has similar hopes and jealousies and wrong things said (or written) at the worst possible moments. If one rushes into the right book idea too quickly, it will burst into flames and later when you chance to meet in some gin joint at a fated moment, you can say, “we always had Paris” and think sadly about the book that might have been if you hadn’t acted to crass with the delicate possibilities before the idea was fully formed in your heart and soul.

Sure, if my writer’s life was a movie, some well-meaning colleague who’s already going steady with a book idea would tell me to shave, put on a clean set of clothes and go with him or her to a nearby barn dance or USO canteen where the camera shots, dialogue, and music would clue in the audience before I knew what hit me that “this is the one.” I wish it were that easy.

Lord knows I can’t go looking for ideas at Walmart because we all know what kinds of ideas hang out there.

So, with the release of Lena, I’m sitting here alone at a silent keyboard, ashtray full of cigarette butts, a wastebasket overflowing with empty Scotch bottles, vicariously reading other people’s books.

Whatever you do, please don’t try to “help.”

Malcolm

 

Memories in the Wine: Scuppernong Grapes

Possibly the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is the 400-year-old scuppernong “Mother Vine” growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. – Wikipedia

Yesterday, I learned in a Facebook conversation that both my publisher and I grew up with a love for Muscadine grapes. In my case, it was Scuppernongs, a distinctive variety of Muscadines. I grew up in the Florida Panhandle where many of my junior high and high school friends’ parents had small farms or large rural backyards. Every fall, we ate Scuppernongs right off the vines, usually on ancient, falling-down trellises.  While Muscadines are generally purplish red, Scuppernongs are greenish bronze.

Scuppernongs – Wikipedia photo

The grapes make great jams and jellies–and wine. (Here is one of the many online recipes for Scuppernong jam.) The old-timers had many regional names for Scuppernongs, including “sculpins” Oddly, I was the only one in my family who liked these grapes; my brothers and parents found them too tart and didn’t like chewing on them and having to spit out the skins after all the juice was gone–sort of like chewing on unpeeled kumquats. (I was also the only one in the family who loved boiled peanuts and chewing on the sugar cane sticks that used to be sold in those days by street vendors.)

I normally drink only non-sweet red wines, but while working on my recently released novel Lena, I chilled several bottles of Scuppernong wine to bring back childhood memories. I actually sipped the wine while working on the book because the characters were drinking, as I called it, homemade sculpin wine. It was nostalgic writing a story about a farm with sculpin grapes while drinking a glass of wine made from those wonderful native grapes

Duplin Winery photo

As for that mother vine, I’d love to taste the wine still being made from this ancient vine in North Carolina. As Duplin Winery describes its MotherVine Wine, “This sweet white wine is made from the Scuppernong grapes of the Mother Vine. The Mother Vine is the oldest Vine in the world, and is still producing World Class Wine!” The label shows a photograph of the vine itself which looks quite a bit different than the vines I saw in Leon County, Florida.

Writing the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic series has brought back a lot of childhood memories. First, the people, many of whom still call me “shug (for sugar), as in “Shug, how’s it going?” Second, the wiregrass and longleaf pine ecosystems and the nearby blackwater rivers and Gulf of Mexico coastline. Third, so many of the foods, from rosin-baked potatoes, mayhaw jelly, hush puppies, fry bread, and catfish.

That Scuppernong wine, though, was pure liquid memory, rather like the now-legal moonshine you can find in most liquor stores. (There’s a Mason jar of shine in my pantry.) Now that the folk magic series is complete, I feel like I’ve just stood up and stretched after reclining on a psychoanalyst’s couch, for the writing was indeed a trip back in time where I found many outrageous things I shouldn’t have kept silent about for so many years, and many joyful childhood moments that made me feel as ancient as that mother vine.

Malcolm

That Elusive Writer’s Platform

Big name writers have writing platforms called the big name writer’s platform.

When James Patterson comes out with a new book, you know who he is and what kinds of stories he tells, so he doesn’t need to go on blog tours or work in a hardware store to stay solvent.

If your name is Joe Doaks, are 43 years old, and live in your parents’ basement where you play video games and hack into the dark web, you only have a writer’s platform if you write a tell-all book about the dark web, especially one that the FBI tries to get banned. Otherwise, you can send the best novel in the universe to a big New York publisher and they probably won’t take it on because you don’t have a platform. That is, nobody has heard of you and you aren’t maintaining a business of some kind that will draw readers to your books.

Most of us who write self-published or small-press books need a platform. Nonfiction is easier than fiction, because our books can be an outgrowth of a strong, nonfiction website that gets thousands of hits a month. That is, if you maintain a popular website in which you provide the real stories behind major crimes, your novel will be seen as part of this and will probably sell well.

If you’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest, and have lots of followers and comments, you’re better off than those who have no online presence unless you have a high-profile teaching position or other offline work that has made you widely known to many people.

Many of us imagine our writer’s platform looks like this:

When, in reality, it looks like this:

 

But then, for example, after hearing a lot of positive comments on, say, Facebook about a new novel we’re about to release, we realize after it’s been released that very few people on our friend’s list actually bought a copy, and that of the small number who did, few (if any) of them posted an Amazon review.

There have been–and still are–a variety of authors’ networking sites. My experience with these is that most authors are there to sell their own books rather than to buy the books of other unknown authors. While “networking” on the authors’ sites, those people are buying James Patterson, Donna Tart, and John Grisham novels rather than fiction nobody’s ever heard of.

Many small-print and self-published authors depend on Amazon. Some books–mostly nonfiction, it seems–have made a lot of money there. Most fiction by unknown authors doesn’t sell well there because most people never see it and those who do would rather buy books from known authors. While Amazon helps self-published and small-press authors to some extent, it’s still a business that makes more off James Patterson than Joe Nobody.

As others before me have said, those of us who don’t have platforms that get the attention of Oprah’s Book Club or a New York Times reviewers basically have to be content to write in the shadows and earn our money from other jobs. Over time, we may be able so build platforms that attract more prospective readers. My last three novels, for example, were about hoodoo. If I were a hoodoo practitioner (I’m not), then my hoodoo site would be a natural place to promote my book. The same can be true for any other field where you have credentials and a following. Those who have come to your site for facts, are likely to enjoy fiction based on those facts.

You can also build your platform by submitting short stories to literary magazines, including those who only pay in contributor’s copies. The credit line at the end of the story that says something like “Bob Smith is the author of the Andromeda Series of fantasy novels” is a good way to spread your name around to prospective readers. Needless to say, magazine credits, including any where your short story or poem won a contest, give your website something to mention.

I remain skeptical of the paid-for-reviews from the well-known sites who provide these because the reviews are expensive and when published, you cannot be certain those reviews won’t be segregated into a “self-published reviews” category. Labeling them like that pretty much negates the value of the review. Also, if you look at the statistics about the probable sales of a self-published book, the cost of that paid-for-review may wipe out all your profits. So far, I haven’t been willing to roll the dice on reviews or book-of-the-year contests that cost a lot of money and/or advertise the awards are for indie books.

Unfortunately, blogger reviews seem to be of limited help because those blogs don’t attract a lot of attention when compared to the value to a review on a mainstream, traditional newspaper or site. A review from “Bob’s Blog” isn’t really something that’s going to lure a lot of readers away from your mainstream competition. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solicit such reviews, only that you recognize going in that they aren’t the New York Times or The Christian Science Monitor.

You can, to some extent, widen your platform by engaging with readers and writers on sites like Facebook. It’s easy to log on to Facebook and upload the same old stuff every week: notices about your books, shared pictures of animals, jokes, and an occasional political rant. It takes more time to go to the sites of those on your friends list an actually say something there rather than simply clicking LIKE. The same is true of the bogs you read where you can click LIKE and also read a comment. When you find books and viewpoints you like, you are building your platform by leaving comments so that the writers/bloggers start recognizing your name.

If you’re on Pinterest, you can post links to your own blogs and the sites you like about subject matter that may interest others. You can also PIN some of the links other people share that fit into the various niche areas that fit your interests and your novels. The thing here is: engage with the users about things that interest them.

Many authors think their novels require and “all about me” approach to promotion and interaction on blogs and social networks. Really, they’re an “all about you” kind of promotion. Talking about why you wrote those books is not nearly as important as showing prospective readers what’s in it for them to read those books.  Your platform needs to be an invitation rather than a memoir about you and how hard it was to write your novel.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Poetry – a few favorite first lines

Some poems reach us. We’re not always sure why. In fact, I’m more content when the reasons I like a poem never quite add up because my appreciation of it is beyond logic.

I know that I like the opening quatrain of Poe’s “To Helen” partly because of the rhymes and alliteration. Perhaps I’ve seen such beauty in another from time to time and this reminds me of it:

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. – Wikipedia

“Fern Hill,” by Dylan Thomas is probably my favorite poem. We are lucky if we feel the magic of youth this way because it is very nearly a spiritual relationship with the world and the cosmos:

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

Few people these days remember the poet Saint-John Perse, but his Éloges and other poems published the year I was born is a wonderful collection. The first edition I have, once owned by my mother, displays the poems on side-by-side pages in English and the original French. For today’s reader, these poems are probably overly rich. The opening of “To Celebrate Childhood” is another way at the truth of “Fern Hill”:

…Then those flies, that sort of fly, and the last tier of
the garden…Someone is calling. I’ll go..I speak in esteem
–Other than childhood, what was there in those days
that is not here today?
Plains! Slopes! There
was greater order! And everything was but shimmering
reigns and frontiers of light. And shadow and light in those
days were more nearly the same thing…I speak of an esteem
…Along the borders the fruit
might fall
without joy rotting along our lips.

Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate, writes strong poems with (quite often) a bite. I’m very fond of them and her way of thinking.  “Domestic Work” is a good example:

All week she’s cleaned
someone else’s house,
stared down her own face
in the shine of copper–
bottomed pots, polished
wood, toilets she’d pull
the lid to–that look saying

Let’s make a change, girl.

“She Had Some Horses” by Joy Harjo builds and builds on itself until its power is strong enough to make one weep:

She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel Prize winner who lived in India and wrote in Bengali has a rich body of work that I first came across when I was in high school in a book my father had on our living room shelf. I like “The Source”:

The sleep that flits on baby’s eyes-does anybody know from where
it comes? Yes, there is a rumour that it has its dwelling where,
in the fairy village among shadows of the forest dimly lit with
glow-worms, there hang two shy buds of enchantment. From there it
comes to kiss baby’s eyes.
The smile that flickers on baby’s lips when he sleeps-does
anybody know where it was born? Yes, there is a rumour that a young
pale beam of a crescent moon touched the edge of a vanishing autumn
cloud, and there the smile was first born in the dream of a dew
washed morning-the smile that flickers on baby’s lips when he
sleeps.

I can’t shoe-horn the beginnings of all the poems that have caught my attention again and again since childhood into one blog post. But, it was fun to share a few, and perhaps start others thinking about the poetry they return to when they’re in need of hope, empathy, and inspiration.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Writers on the lookout for local color

Authors like me who infuse local color–legends, myths, ghost stories, oral history–into their stories are always on the lookout for books and sites that lead them to more good stuff

Historian Dale Cox who lives in the Florida Panhandle has done more than his fair share of capturing local history and local color in books and websites. This book Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts is a good example of the kind of resource I look for. 

I grew up near Two Egg, saw it numerous times, and knew about half the tales and facts in this book before I bought it. But Cox’s research helps nail everything down, providing new wrinkles I wasn’t aware of as well as tales I hadn’t heard.

Since I write magical realism, I see the location and its legends almost like one of the characters. Of course, my human characters treat the myths and legends as real because that’s how magical realism works.

They really believe Bellamy Bridge has a ghost, that there might be some truth in the notion that the bluffs along the Apalachicola north of Bristol might have been the Biblical Garden of Eden, and that Two-Toed Tom and the Swamp Booger are out there in the dark waiting for an ignorant person to stumble into their clutches.

My library includes many books like this one by Dale Cox, and for the realism side of my novels, books about north Florida’s flora and fauna and history. Sometimes the research is even more fun than the writing.

Malcolm

Soon, I’ll release a new novel (“Lena”) to go along with “Conjure Woman’s Cat’ and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Interviewers, especially those who aren’t very creative, inevitably ask emerging writers that question. I don’t think readers care.

Since I don’t like the question, my flip answer is, “When I got too old for the gigolo business.”

My wife and I have seen so many 1940s movies where the characters, when asked why they did something stupid, said, “Well, there was a war on,” that that has become our standard rationale for just about everything.

My father, Laurence, teaching journalism at Florida State University – (State Archives of Florida/Kerce)

I guess that’s my real excuse. Those were desperate times and people did desperate things, blew their savings in a poker game, married somebody in Vegas whom they’d known for twenty minutes, wrote the words “once upon a time” on a scrap of paper grabbed from the clutches of an ill wind on a dark street corner.

Truthfully, I could say that both of my parents were teachers and writers and that they passed the curse down to me. I’m sure a sophisticated DNA test would prove that. They both read a lot of books, and passed that mixed blessing down to me. It’s mixed because it leads to a house full of books.

My folks, who didn’t know anything about the gigolo business or the fact that my life’s work started because there was a war on, were a bit pushy about my writing. When I called home, Mother asked, “Have you been keeping up with your writing?” before she asked how I was or if this was just another call for bail money.

Maybe she knew my distrust of straight answers made me unsuitable for other careers such as the ministry, police work, or counseling. Years before the movie “Fargo” was released, she worried that I’d throw my principles into a wood chipper and become a used car salesman.

She had good reason to worry: I made my worst grades in school in English classes. That never went over well when report cards came out. “My teachers hate me because they think I think I know more than they do.” Mother acknowledged that I might, but said, “I think those teachers are like dogs. They can smell fear.”

She was right about that.

My teachers also smelled lack of interest. I told them I was already fluent in English and shouldn’t have to take it.

Chances are, I have a negative attitude about all this.

Malcolm