Lila Shaara’s New Novel

Author Lila Shaara (“Every Secret Thing,” 2006) has a new novel called “The Fortune Teller’s Daughter” due out December 30 from Ballantine.

While the Kirkus and Publishers Weekly reviews are mixed, author Nancy Thayer says the new novel is “is fresh and authentic, the plot complex and full of surprises. This compelling suspense novel has it all–mystery, romance, fascinating characters, and some very creepy moments.”

I hope Thayer’s review is more typical of what Shaara will be hearing in response to her novel. I have high hopes for it, in part because fortune teller stories catch my attention and partly because the novel is set in north Florida where Shaara and I grew up.

While she would have no reason to remember me, I remember her as a “kid” moving around more or less behind the scenes of her father’s house. Her father, Michael Shaara (The Killer Angels) taught my Florida State University creative writing class at his house and his two children usually noticed the giant table of munchies set out for us at break time.

She has two heavy duty acts to follow, her late father as well as her brother Jeff (a prolific author of award-winning historical fiction). In light of that, I wish her well today as a pre-0rder “The Fortune Teller’s Daugher.”

Today’s Table Scraps

  1. Leave a comment on my Eye Blink Fiction weblog for a chance to win a free hard cover copy of the novel “Tethered.” What a great debut novel by Amy MacKinnon.
  2. My poem “Sock Puppet” won second prize in The Smoking Poet’s first annual poetry contest. You can see the winning poems here.
  3. Today’s quotation: “One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothin’ can beat teamwork.” –Edward Abbey

Give Books as Christmas Gifts This Year

We’re told these are hard times and it’s easy to believe it.

So, we’re contemplating a more frugal Christmas than usual. Good news: books are cheaper than most of the gifts people flock to the stores to buy.

Author Joshua Henkin (Matrimony) notes in a guest post in today’s Emerging Writers Network blog that with book sales down 40%,  publisher layoffs being announced, and more independent bookstores closing that “what’s at stake is the future of books, and of reading culture.”

Sure, he says, Rowling, Meyer and other authors will continue to publish, but what does the future hold for other authors?

Long term, I’m not worried about the industry, for I think publishers will see that their old business models have become wasteful and ineffective. That will change. So, too, the way we read books. There will be less paper and more Kindle. This will take time.

For now, Henkin suggests that “You really can make a difference.  A typical paperback novel costs less than fifteen dollars, far cheaper than a necklace or a sweater or dinner at a nice restaurant.”

Authors Guild President Roy Blount, suggests we should buy books now and stockpile them for birthdays throughout the year and even pick up children’s books for friends who look like “they may eventually give birth.”

If you need ideas, take a look at the Books for the Holidays site. And then, if you’re children are still young enough, read them some fresh bedtime stories. If they’ve left the nest, read a story to yourself rather than watching TV or checking the feed on Twitter before you turn in for the night.

Peruse My Top Picks at Powell’s Books.

Newspapers Use Puns to Report SNL Skit

As Poynter Online notes, some newspapers and other media outlets used blindness puns to report the fallout (at least from New York Governor David Patterson’s office) about the Saturday Night Live skit Saturday poking fun of his blindness.

Patterson–in the skit–blundered around looking for a successor for Hillary Clinton’s seat. Risa Heller, the governor’s communications director called the skit offensive. Newspapers then reported the story with such headlines as GOVERNOR DIDN’T SEE THE HUMOR and BLINDING MAD GOV. PATTERSON RIPS SNL FOR SKIT.

Obviously, the skit was a parody and intended as political humor. It’s protected speech, offensive or not, and seems no more offensive to me than the endless barage of purported humor–much of which comes from politicians and not comedy shows– and stereotyping aimed at Republicans.

Personally, I think Heller erred in calling greater attention to the skit, especially by using the rather lame “it’s offensive” charge.

What bothers me is not the skit but the newspaper reporting. As tempting as it might be to use blindness puns, the reporting of this story is supposed to be objective. Conservative readers might note that when they’re portrayed as hunters, rural, Southern, etc., their claims that they are being stereotyped seldom make the front page–or any page. On the other hand, perhaps they’re lucky since the headlines might just make it worse.

In the old days, journalists were taught to leave their opinions at the door. In the Patterson matter, their job is to report the fact that SNL angered the governor, not make additional jokes at the governor’s expense. This is not objective reporting. It’s, as they say, “high school.”

Montana Milestone for 2008 – Swan Valley

Looking back on environmental and conservation milestones for 2008, many of us recall bad news, among the items, more lunancy about killing wolves and polar bears, the government often in a hurry to give away resources and habitats one way or another.

When the winter 2008 issue of the Nature Conservancy magazine arrived, I was reminded that in June while I was busy with work, steps were taken in Montana to protect 320,000 acres of mountain land often referred to as the backbone of the world and the crown of the continent.

The Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy bought forest land acreage from the Plum Creek Timber Company in the Swan Valley; this is part of what the Nature Conservancy describes as part of  “a 10-million acre expanse of mountains, valleys and prairies that represents one of the largest, most-intact ecosystems in the continental United States.”

You can read more about the ongoing work in Montana by visiting the website of the Montana Legacy Project.

How often we miss good news like this.

Forever Friends Blog Tour

Today it’s a pleasure welcoming Shelagh Watkins who is here to talk about the new “Forever Friends” anthology from Mandinam Press:

Thank you for reading this blog entry! This is the eleventh post on the blog tour. If you are new to the tour, welcome! If this is the eleventh blog you have read, thank you for following the tour! As I write this, the tour has reached the sixth day and Shelagh’s Weblog, where all the blog posts on the tour have been posted, has received over three hundred views between December 1st-5th. A special thank you from me to everyone following the tour on my weblog!

Forever Friends is gaining in popularity every day, as more books are sold daily on

Earlier this week, I answered questions posed by Sue Durkin. Today, I will be answering Malcolm’s questions:

1. What are the primary benefits of your Published Authors group? What does it provide that authors weren’t getting elsewhere?

I set up the Published Authors Network on August 5th 2007 to give authors a chance to meet and exchange ideas about publishing and marketing books. At the time, there were similar Ning networks such as Book Marketing and Book Place. The difference between the Published Authors Network and other networks is the additional forum, where members of the network gather on a public forum to discuss anything in general and writing in particular. It’s a fun place as well as a place to discuss serious issues about writing and the publishing industry.

2. When the group decided to do an anthology, how was the theme chosen? What were the benefits of a theme approach rather than including poems and short stories about any subject?

I suggested to the group that Mandinam Press, which I set up in January 2008, would be willing to publish an anthology of short stories and poems without giving any real thought to how it might be set up. However, one of my poems, Hope for a Safer Place, was chosen for inclusion in the anthology Stories of Strength, with the obvious theme of ‘strength’, which gave me the idea to use a theme for the Published Authors anthology. Friendship seemed to be an obvious choice because of the friendships on the forum. The main advantage of a theme was giving the contributors something to focus on. It concentrated the mind!

3. Does the anthology have a primary audience or age group?

No. There really is something for everyone for nine to ninety!

4. How would you describe the book to your prospective audience in 25 words or less.

This book will delight and entertain you: from everlasting love to broken friendships, from childhood to old age; there really is something for everyone!

5. If you could say more, what else would you tell them?

This is a book that will grow on; a book you will cherish. You will love the cover, love the depth and variety of its contents and love the feel of it in your hands. Put it on your coffee table, by your bed, on your desk or by the phone so that you can dip into it anytime and read something new.

6. Where can the anthology be purchased? (include links if you know them)

Forever Friends is available now from all major online stores, including

Forever Friends


Forever Friends

7. What other book projects have you been involved in?

I set up Mandinam Press to self-publish The Power of Persuasion, a book that is on the list for Wales Book of the Year. The latest project that I might be involved in is the serialization of Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine on local radio. The project is in the very early stages of development and, until I know more, I can’t say if it will actually go ahead or not. Watch this space!

8. Does the group plan to issue new anthologies in the coming years?

There is nothing planned at the moment. I will see how things go and maybe consider a second anthology next year. I will not be making any decisions about this before spring 2009.

I would like to thank Malcolm for inviting me to talk about Forever Friends. Malcolm’s poem, Debt, Paid in Full is a wonderful tribute to an old friend, Mr. Henry, whose life was saved by a doctor. The doctor’s son was a one of Malcolm’s pals. Every Saturday, to repay the doctor, Mr. Henry drove from his farm into town to pick up Malcolm’s pal, and his pal’s brothers and schoolmates. From town, they all rode out along the canopy road north of Tallahassee, Florida, eating sticky buns that Mr. Henry had waiting and ended up at what appeared to be an infinite paradise: a creek down in the woods where the boys looked for minnows, sailed boats, and watched for snakes. With the writing of the poem, the debt has now been paid in full!

Buy the book and read the poem along with all the other wonderful poems and stories. You will not be disappointed!

Thanks again for reading this and best wishes for the holiday season!

Shelagh Watkins

Please follow the tour to learn more about the book.

Blog Tour

December 1 Chelle Cordero
December 2 Zada Connaway
December 3 Mary Muhammad
December 4 Helen Wisocki
December 5 Pam Robertson
December 6 Dick Stodghill
December 7 Philip Spires
December 8 Milena Gomez
December 9 L. Sue Durkin
December 10 A. Ahad
December 11 Malcolm R. Campbell
December 12 Lynn C. Johnston
December 13 Dianne Sagan
December 14 Donald James Parker
December 15 Karina Kantas
December 16 Grace Bridges
December 17 Tiziana Rinaldi Castro
December 18 Yvonne Oots
December 19 Dana Rettig

Denny Crane, Denny Crane

Media Life Magazine notes that when Boston Legal wraps of the series’ final moments, this will be the first time in 20 years that writer David E. Kelly won’t have a show on television.

Going back to such shows as “L. A. Law” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” I have enjoyed David Kelley’s writing for years. That’s what lured me in week after week to watch “Boston Legal” in spite of the fact that the show featured wholly unrealistic courtroom scenes and used the slightest of pretenses for cramming a kitchen sink full of liberal pointificating into every program. Lack of relevance to the plot was never a barrier.

The dialogue was superb, the characters creatively drawn, and the plots were humorous and off the wall. (I know one judge who watches the show just to see what kind of outlandish legal messes they’ll dream up next.) A talented cast made the thing work. I think we’ll be seeing David Kelley again.

NOTE: Shelagh Watkins will be with us this Thursday to talk about her wonderful anthology (yes, I’m biased since I have a poem in it) Forever Friends.

December’s Newsletter

Anticipating Christmas
Winter is my favorite time of year, especially when the Christmas lights go up and the house fills with colour and shadow, rosemary and fir, and good things baking in the kitchen.

I’m listening to Mannheim Streamroller’s Christmas Extraordinaire as I type these words, soon to be followed a mix of Diana Krall and traditional favorites.

The shadowy, almost palpable presence within the Christmas tree, the wreaths, and the great winter wood accentuates the lights and music and makes them more dear.

It’s a time of wonder, greater than words can say.

Eye Blink Fiction
I invite you to stop by my new weblog called Eye Blink Fiction where I am posting short short stories or, in modern terms, flash fiction. There are two stories there now with more to follow. Yesterday’s upload features David Ward, the protagonist in my novel-in-search-of-a-publisher Garden of Heaven.


When the small publisher that had been enthusiastically considering a new release of The Sun Singer suddenly announced it was no longer publishing fiction in order to focus on its highly specialized nonfiction, I uploaded this 2004 novel onto HarperCollins Authonomy web site. Blunly put, this is an online slush pile. On a more positive note, manuscripts are read and discussed by the authors themselves. Those with the highest ranking are actually considered by the publisher’s editors while others of note may also get a look. I put the novel here because I don’t want to actively try to market two manuscripts at once, and my priority if Garden of Heaven. If you have a manuscript, you might find the reader comments here to be helpful.

The State of Publishing
Publishers have been in the news a lot lately as lower sales, book-acceptance freezes, and layoffs make headlines. Some experts believe that newspapers as we now know them will be gone within ten years. Others speculate about how long it will be before book publishing follows as e-books (PDF, Kindle, etc.) cut more deeply into hard cover and paperback sales.

A fair amount of publishers’ red ink comes from outmoded practices, one being the consignment method of selling books. Unlike the products in any other industry, books ordered by bookstores are 100% returnable. Knowning this, bookstores don’t always order responsibly, meaning that they order books for displays, treat them roughly, and then send them back too damaged to be sold elsewhere. This represents a great loss of money and delays the payment of royalties to authors. For a very interesting essay about this, see Richard Curtis’ Behind Publishing’s Wednesday of the Long Knives.

Forever Friends
A poem of mine appears in the new anthology (October, 2008) Forever Friends. The anthology’s editor Shelagh Watkins will appear on my Malcolm’s Round Table weblog on December 11th to talk about the book. I invite you to stop by and leave a comment or ask Shelagh a question about her work.

Book Review – Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
I have high praise for Tethered, not because it was published on my birthday, but because it exemplifies the best of what a praiseworthy novel must offer: character, setting, plot and language. MacKinnon combines these focuses in “Tethered” into art and artistry.
Clara, who is highly introverted from an unkind childhood, connects better with the dead than the living and finds her perfect peace among the bodies she prepares for burial at the funeral home where she works.

But there’s a child predator on the loose. Mike, a policeman trying to come to grips with his own grief over a family tragedy, is trying to track down the man responsible for the death of an unidentified girl whom he refers to as “Precious Doe.” He needs help, both human compassion and professional expertise, but Clara cannot give it. Yet, she must, for more kids are missing, and she knows their pain.

This well-researched story is both a mystery and a love story. MacKinnon’s blunt, highly controlled prose reminds me of the writing of Kent Haruf in “Plainsong” and is a perfect fit for her protagonist and the cold basement room where she prepares the dead for a rest she fears she’ll never know.

If I worked for the New York Times, I would have included this book on the newspaper’s recent list of 100 notable books for 2008. Based on the Precious Doe murder case in Kansas City in 2001, the novel cries out to be read and understood, and when you finish reading it, you will be transformed by the experience.

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“The world is what you think it is.”
–Serge Kahili King

What’s your take on the dead Walmart Worker?

On “Black Friday,” word spread quickly via media outlets and the Internet that a Walmart worker in a New York Store was trampled to death by the crowd rushing through the doors for bargains.

People expressed shock, disbelief, anger and sadness.

For the record, the man’s name is Jdimytai Damour. He was among the Walmart employees inside the Valley Stream, NY store forming a human chain to slow down the crowd of some 2,000 people outside the store who were chanting “break down the doors.” At 34 years of age, Damour was 6’5″ tall and weighed 270 pounds, large enough one might think to hold his own against incoming shoppers. Even so, he died of asphyxiation; the EMTs trying to save him were also stepped on by the crowd. Everyone who came into the store–and they did continue to come in–could not have missed the man lying on the floor. They either passed him by or they, too, stepped on him.

People who know about the logistics of such things are saying that there are good ways and bad ways to prepare for the prospective chaos during store openings on Black Friday when extraordinary deals have been well publicized to lure in shoppers. In this case, experts are suggesting that security should have been outside the store rather than inside, and positioned to organize the crowd into orderly lines. Others are noting that those in the human chain had had no experience in crowd control.

There will probably be a wrongful death suit against Walmart as Damour’s family works with police using security tapes to ascertain whether it’s even possible to see who–specifically–tramped him and whether they acted out of negligence or were pushed over him by the people behind them. The store’s ineffective use of barricades and security personnel placement will be discussed. So, too, the crowd control techniques of other stores across the nation that advertised tempting bargains but experienced little or no chaos.

Perhaps justice will ultimately be served, the victim’s family compensated, closure of one kind or another will be found, and retailers and shoppers will learn more about safety and crowd control prior to Black Friday 2009.

I’m wondering, though, what your take is on the frenzy itself. What is it in a person’s mindset that makes Black Friday bargains, deals and prizes so compelling that s/he is willing to become part of a mob in order to get his/her item in a “me first” rush?

What does this event say about the shoppers outside that Walmart? What does it say about all of us, the thousands of people who get up at 3 a.m. to get their places in line (or near the front of a crowd or a mob) for the 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Black Friday store openings?

Why are the deals important enough for this?

NOTE: On December 11th, Shelagh Watkins, creator and editor of the recently published Forever Friends anthology will visit with us to talk about the book. I hope you’ll join us with comments and questions.

Copyright (c) 20008 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the magical adventure novel The Sun Singer.

On the road to Christmas

Actions that are from our desire to receive for the self-alone connect us to the path of Darkness. Actions that are for our desire to share connect us to the path of Light.Michael Berg

Children traditionally experience the magic of Christmas in part by speculating about the gifts beneath the tree. They wonder what will Santa bring them and can hardly sleep the night before as they toss and turn thinking about opening their presents and shaking out their stockings.

As children grow older, they slowly begin to learn that a great part of the joy of Christmas comes from giving, from finding something special that another person will like. My parents and grandparents were far more excited about my reactions to the gifts I received than their own gifts.

There are some balancing acts here. One is keeping gifts and expectations within reason so that Christmas isn’t viewed as a time to get absurd amounts of loot. Another is keeping one’s ego out of the picture so that one is giving in order to share and to make the recipient happy, not to be praised and loved for the size of the gift.

At Christmas time, people frequently say they wish the magic of the Christmas tree were a part of their lives year-around. I don’t expect they’re talking about handing out gifts 24/7 every day of the year. The magic, I think, comes from being willing to share what we know and what we have and who we are. It comes from having a “you first” philosophy.

Perhaps we start first with our family and friends simply by being more available in the multiple senses of the word, and then we take another step and expand on that. And then another step after that. We all know how we’ve felt on Christmas mornings watching children open gifts from us they hardly dared hope for. Their surprise, their smiles, their delight–we can have that feeling again of witnessing that by giving of ourselves, our experience, our knowledge, our time, and our compassion.

NOTE: On December 11th, Shelagh Watkins, creator and editor of the recently published Forever Friends anthology will visit with us to talk about the book. I hope you’ll join us with comments and questions.

On the road to Thanksgiving

The excesively polarized political debate in recent years focused the consciousness of the nation on negatives, on what we purportedly lacked, on what we didn’t have, on what somebody somewhere was doing wrong. During this time, the country and our lives were not without value, yet the daily whining tended more than anything else to obscure what we could have been and should have been thankful for.

My belief system is quite unwielding on one point: What you resist, persists.

To our detriment, lack–even before the nasty political bickering of the last eight years–has long been a favorite topic of conversation, in barber shops, over the backyard fence, on street corners with strangers, beneath satin sheets with lovers, and one could almost laugh at it as the tragicomedy of the human experience if it weren’t making such a mess of our lives.

If one’s lumbago wasn’t acting up, if it weren’t too cold or too dry or too wet or too windy, if the President hadn’t just said something idiotic, if the promotion hadn’t gone to company clown, if the neighbor hadn’t just painted his house pink with green stripes, if if if if, then for goodness sakes, there was veritably nothing to talk about. Lack, for many, makes the world go around.

Like attracts like, the gurus tell us, and so it is that those who focus a fair amount of their waking thoughts–not to mention their dreams–on lack seem forever surprised on the constant deluge of additional lack into their lives. Many, as we have seen, have been quite willing to mortgage their souls as well as all of their temporal assets in a blind attempt to escape from lack.

When we focus on lack, what we already have is slid onto the back burner. We don’t think about it. We’re not grateful for it. We take it for granted. We even hide it on purpose because–should it be seen–it might diminish our argument that fate and other people have cast an unfair amount of lack into our lives.

As Thanksgiving approachs, a large part of our daily conversation remains focused on lack, on just how bad the Black Friday sales figures are likely to be or on how early we need to get up on that day after Thanksgiving to get to the store before anyone else does so we can beat them to the sales tables and get rid as much of our lack as possible at the lowest possible cost.

The cost, I think, is far too high regardless of the amount we spend, and the consequences of worshipping the daemons of lack are far too dear to leave the house with credit cards in hand.

I have an alternative proposal. It’s not my invention. Thousands have already said it and said it better. Stay home with what you have rather than going out in search of what you think you’re missing. It’s a difficult habit to break, I know, but it’s the only way to your heart’s desires.

Each day on the road to Thanksgiving, we have an opportunity to ponder that which we are likely to be grateful for if and when we give it a clear focus within the mind’s eye. What we have requires more of our attention than what we don’t have. Perhaps it’s a warm coat or a lover or a house filled with friends or a job or a perfect weekend or a full pantry or a pleasant disposition.

Gratefulness leads to more gratefulness and thanks leads to more thanks, do you think?