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

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Book Bits: Amazon algorithm, ‘We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,’ Sam Hawke, Anne Tyler, Indies Unlimited

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we’ll be seeing the fourth Comoran Strike novel from J. k. Rowling this fall. I like the series and will be looking forward to the release.

Here’s some more news for your Monday.

  1. Viewpoint: The Amazon Algorithm Myth – “A problematic feature of the world in 2018 is that the social networks we have built seem to spread misinformation faster and wider than its more accurate counterpart, and this can lead authors to make decisions counter to their interests. One of the enduring myths surrounds “’The Amazon Algorithm.’” David Gaughran
  2. Review: We Don’t Eat our Classmates, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, ages 3-7 – “When a young T. Rex named Penelope starts school, she learns some lessons about her classmates; most importantly, they are not for eating…Fans of macabre, tongue-in-cheek humor (and twist endings!) will enjoy time spent with Penelope.” Kirkus Reviews
  3. NewsCooking and Sci-Fi Are the Hot Print Segments This Year So Far, by Jim Milliot – “The cooking/entertaining and science fiction categories had the strongest print unit sales gains among the adult categories in the first half of 2018 compared to the first six months of 2017, according to NPD BookScan. On the downside, religion had the largest decline among the adult fiction categories, with units dropping 50%.” Publishers Weekly
  4. Interview: A Particularly Potent Brew, Sam Hawke with Noah Fram – “I love a good assassin story but I wanted to write the kind of inverse to that: the tale of the spoiled and pampered officials being targeted, rather than the tale of the assassins themselves. What I particularly love about Robin’s books, and what makes them stand out from other assassin romps, is that the poisonings and manipulations performed are never presented in a glorified or glamorous way.” BookPage
  5. EssayReading Raymond Chandler in the age of #MeToo, by Megan Abbott – “And yet, even reading Chandler’s harsher passages, I find myself not turning away but moving closer. Trying to understand something. Am I still entranced? Even as I resist the faintly gendered connotations of the term, its suggestion of female helplessness in the face of male potency, I still feel the pull. What fascinates and compels me most about Chandler in this #MeToo moment are the ways his novels speak to our current climate. Because if you want to understand toxic white masculinity, you could learn a lot by looking at noir.” Slate
  6. Review: Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler  reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum – “”CLOCK DANCE is a riveting and wholesome story of family, relationships, humanity and self-discovery…. [Anne Tyler] is at the top of her writing game in this outstanding novel.” Book Reporter
  7. News Source: Indie Author Newsbreak, This news feature will offer author, publishing news, and tips every Friday. I found the Amazon Algorithm (item 1) story link here. Should be a good information source from the popular authors’ website. Indies Unlimited
  8. Quotation: “Go for broke. Always try and do too much. Dispense with safety nets. Take a deep breath before you begin talking. Aim for the stars. Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world. And never forget that writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things–childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves–that go on slipping , like sand, through our fingers.” – Salman Rushdie
  9. Interview: Don’t Make Me Pull Over by Richard Ratay, with by Randy Dotinga – “I came up with the idea while on a family vacation. I found myself on a beach chair, looking at my young sons, who were then aged 6 and 8, and I thought about traveling 1970s America at that age with my own parents and siblings. It hit me how profound those experiences really were. They gave me some of my fondest childhood memories, they broadened my horizons in so many ways, and they profoundly shaped my relationships with my parents and my siblings for a lifetime. But I knew little about how the great American road trip experience developed.” Christian Science Monitor

Book Bits is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the upcoming novel “Lena” from Thomas-Jacob Publishing. Click on the book title to see the trailer.

–Malcolm

 

 

How many of these famous first lines do you know?

This is a pop quiz. Sure, you can copy and paste these lines into a Google search or look at the answers at the bottom of the page. But you won’t will you?

  1. In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.
  2. A screaming comes across the sky.
  3. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
  4. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they executed the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
  5. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.
  6. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  7. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
  8. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
  9. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
  10. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.
  11. The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we understood the gravity of our situation.
  12. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
  13. I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too.
  14. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.

–Malcolm

Why are some astonishing books less interesting when re-read?

Readers and writers often discuss whether or not they re-read books. While many of us have too many new books we want to read to spend much time re-reading old ones, the consensus is that there are usually a few comfort-food old books we enjoy multiple times.

I’ve re-read most of Isabel Allende’s books at least once, some of Pat Conroy’s bools several times, and an old Scot’s language trilogy A Scot’s Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon multiple times. Why? The reasons are mostly subjective, but usually include interesting characters, compelling plots, a fine use of language, and the likelihood of discovering something new in the story each time I go through it.

I very seldom re-read page-turner novels. They keep my attention the first time, but the plots are too linear and predictable to be interesting if I try to pick up these books a second time. Other books, many that are clever, highly inventive, and often humorous don’t seem to work for me on a second or third reading. Perhaps most of the excitement from the first reading fades away because it came from experiencing something very new, like hearing a great joke, that doesn’t work later on because I already know the punchline.

As a case in point, my favorite novel in 2006 was Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  It was well received by critics and became a bestseller. Out of fresh reading materials, I looked forward to reading it again last week. I was surprised to find myself skimming. However, I did read it to the end because I’d forgotten many of the details of a rather tangled plot.

The protagonist, Blue van Meer, is enrolled in an upscale high school for her senior year after spending the rest of her school years enrolled in one or more schools every year because her widowed father ended up with university teaching positions throughout the country. At St. Gallway School, she seemingly inadvertently comes under the wing of an eccentric film teacher and the snobbish clique of students who worship her.

The book, which mimics the syllabus of a high school or college course, is clever, inventive, philosophical, and an outstanding example of stories where nothing is what it seems to be. Blue’s erudite father is very philosophical and very opinionated about the values of the unwashed masses. While this was interesting the first time through the book, such passages became a big of a swamp the second time through. Likewise, Blue speculates about a lot of things and, while exciting when I first read the book, were a bit tedious the second time.

I still highly recommend the novel and believe that readers who enjoy something different and highly creative will have fun reading it. It failed to keep my attention the second time through because its unique approach tended–in my view–to keep it from being compelling when that unique approach was a journey I’d taken before.

I admit that my feelings about re-reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics are highly subjective and probably tell you more about me than they tell you about the book. Other readers would look at the list of books that I re-read and say they either couldn’t get through them once, much less twice. With movies, some of which I’ve watched multiple times, I often find that the ambiance of such films brings me back to them in spite of the fact I know how they end. Perhaps avid readers feel the same way about the books they read multiple times.

Some people tell me they’ve read all the books in the Harry Potter series multiple times. I’ve read them all, but have little interest in re-reading them even though I’ve seen some of the movies more than once (and enjoyably so). I recently read the Scot’s language translation of the first Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stane and thoroughly enjoyed it because–for a person of Scots ancestry–it was fun reading it in Scots. Could I read it again? Probably not because I enjoyed seeing a story I already knew through the eyes of the Scots translator. It can only be new once.

Likewise, Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics can only be new once, and after that an novel based on a clever approach didn’t work for me as read-it-again-and-again comfort food.

–Malcolm

Coming soon, “Lena,” the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series.

How’s your book’s description working for you?

The number one problem we run into during the vetting process here at Indies Unlimited is a book’s description, also sometimes known as the book sales pitch or the book blurb. Too long, too short, too detailed, too vague, too too too, blah blah blah. What it comes down to is: many authors cannot write a book description on their own.

via Book Description Basics – Indies Unlimited

K.S. Brooks thinks it might be okay if a writer doesn’t automatically know how to write a pithy, industrial strength description for his/her book. We’ve lived with the manuscript for months, possibly years. We “know too much” about it to create the best 250 or 500 words of description the book needs to sell.

Her article on Indies Unlimited includes links to related how-to articles along with a list of considerations. If you’re publishing your books yourself or going through a small press that relies on you to write the description for Amazon and the back cover, this article will give you a running start.

–Malcolm

Book Bits: Sherman Alexie, Smoky Zeidel, ‘Freshwater,’ book covers, Amy Tan

According to the social media, people are impatient for Spring. Booker Talk (Item 2), one of my favorite blogs, wishes all of us Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus i chi! (Happy St. David’s Day to You All) with a fine list of Welsh books to consider during inclement weather. It’s raining hard here in Northwest Georgia, so in between furtive trips into the yard to see what the bulbs are doing, I’m doing a lot of reading. If you’ve got stormy weather and don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky, here are a few links to help you wait for Spring.

  1. Wikipedia Photo

    News: Sherman Alexie’s Response to Harassment Accusations – “After a month of online charges that he has been abusive to many women, particularly Native American women, author Sherman Alexie issued a statement yesterday. It’s a mix of admission and denial and, as with to much of the matter, it’s somewhat vague.” Shelf Awareness

  2. Lists: Books to mark Wales’ special day – March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales — “St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh. The celebrations will be very muted this year however with schools closed and concerts cancelled because of Storm Emma, so I thought I would mark the occasion by highlighting some new books from authors and publishers based in Wales.” BookerTalk
  3. New Title: Garden Metamorphosis: New and Collected Poems of Change and Growth, by Smoky Zeidel (Thomas-Jacob, March 1) – “In the midst of a confusing and frightening world, Smoky Zeidel remains true to form with her poetry, gently reminding us to close out the superfluous and remember that which is sacred. Garden Metamorphosis is both a love song to Mother Earth, and a celebration of the cycle of life Read the complete poems, plus Zeidel’s short story, ‘Transformed.'” Thomas-Jacob Publishing
  4. Ursu

    Feature: Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry, by Anne Ursu – “These are the sort of events we’re told to brush off — they’re jokes, they’re flattering, no big deal. But when you believe you are a professional and someone informs you they see you as a sex object, it can shatter your sense of self and your sense of safety.” Medium

  5. Quotation: “The future of publishing lies with the small and medium-sized presses, because the big publishers in New York are all part of huge conglomerates.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  6. Review: Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi, reviewed by Tariro Mzezewa – “In her remarkable and daring debut novel, “Freshwater,” Akwaeke Emezi draws in part from her own life to tell the story of Ada, a young Igbo and Tamil woman haunted by the ogbanje — the ‘godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind.’” New York Times
  7. Feature: Meet the Designers behind Your Favorite Book Covers, by Alexxa Gotthardt – “We talk with five designers whose book jackets are routinely hailed as crowd favorites. Their designs blanket young adult bestsellers like John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down (2017), literary classics like Vladimir Nabokov’s The Eye (1930), and tomes that rethink the form of a book (one comes with a remote control, and drives like a toy car).” Artsy
  8. Interview Amy Tan on Writing and the Secrets of Her Past, with Nicole Chung – “In ‘Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir,’ Amy Tan recalls the time a relative told her mother that she shouldn’t fill her daughter’s head with ‘all these useless stories.’ Why should Amy know so much, visit her mother’s painful memories, when it was beyond her power to change the past? Her mother replied: ‘I tell her so she can tell everyone, tell the whole world . . . That’s how it can be changed.’ As she writes in her memoir, ‘My mother gave me permission to tell the truth.’” Shondaland

Book Bits is compiled randomly by author Malcolm R. Campbell.

News: Free book and a new title

For your consideration when you’re looking for something to read:

  • Mountain Song is free on Kindle December 2 and 3: David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?
  • Quotation: “After a while, the characters I’m writing begin to feel real to me. That’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction.” – Alice Hoffman
  • A Shallow River of Mercy, a new title from Robert Hays, released December 1 by Thomas-Jacob PublishingErnst Kohl has spent nearly half his life in prison after being convicted of murder as a young man. Upon his release, with nowhere else to go, Kohl returns to his old family home on the outskirts of a small Michigan town, hoping for redemption, or at least understanding. He finds a dog, a girlfriend, and a job in quick succession, and it seems as if he might finally be able to leave the past behind and make a quiet life for himself. But some of the residents, including the town’s corrupt deputy sheriff, are less than thrilled to see him, and will stop at nothing to rid the town of its infamous resident. As events hurtle to an inevitable conclusion, Kohl is left to decide: At what point might a man break, and at what cost to himself? 
  • Thanksgiving: I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving or–if needed–survived the relatives. We enjoyed a nice visit with my brother and his wife who drove up from Florida, shared wine and food and a thousand-piece puzzle, and provided a lot of great conversation. The lights and wreath went up (not by themselves) on the front door today while inside we’re wrapping gifts to hand over to the post office, hopefully for delivery.

Malcolm

A bestselling author’s book piracy story

“A pirated copy isn’t ‘good advertising’ or ‘great word of mouth’ or ‘not really a lost sale.’”

via Contents of Maggie Stiefvater’s Brain

A lot of authors dismiss book piracy with blasé misconceptions like those Maggie Stiefvater quoted above. They’re wrong. Maggie Stefvater almost lost traction her Raven King series (a series I like, btw) because pirated copies were diluting sales to the extent that her publisher thought the public was losing interest.

As she says, authors generally expect the first book in a series to sell the best and for sales to go down in the follow-up books. But she tried a nifty way of proving that there was more to it than expected reader attrition.

This is a cautionary tale for authors, especially those who think piracy either doesn’t hurt you or that it might actually help you. Click on the link to see how she saved her series.

–Malcolm

 

Reduced price just in time for your holiday shopping

The Kindle edition of my conjure and crime novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, has been reduced to only $2.99 for the holidays. Ah, the books you can give (or keep for yourself)!

From the publisher:

Torreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord.

Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman. After he refuses to carry Eulalie’s herbs and eggs and Willie’s corn, mercantile owner Lane Walker is drawn into the web of lies before he, too, disappears.

Washerwoman knows how to cover his tracks with the magic he learned from Florida’s most famous root doctor, Uncle Monday, so he is more elusive than hen’s teeth, more dangerous that the Klan, and threatens to brutally remove any obstacle in the way of his profits. In this follow up to Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Lena face their greatest challenge with scarce support from townspeople who are scared of their own shadows. Even though Eulalie is older than dirt, her faith in the good Lord and her endless supply of spells guarantee she will give Washerwoman a run for his ill-gotten money in this swamps and piney woods story.

And a reviewer says:

Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'”

– Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat

I hope you (and the friends on your holiday list) enjoy the story.

–Malcollm

Briefly noted: ‘Refiner’s Fire’ by Mark Helprin

While Kirkus Reviews called Mark Helprin’s first novel Refiner’s Fire (1978) “grandiose,” it received more positive reviews from other major media outlets. I first read it five years after it came out when, my excited reading of Winter’s Tale (1983), led me on a search for another Helprin book. Winter’s Tale remains my favorite, followed by A Soldier of the Great War (1991). While In Sunlight and Shadow (2012) seemed to be to be less successful than the others, it contains the same dazzling images, imagination, and prose I loved in Winter’s Tale and Refiner’s Fire. In rereading Refiner’ Fire this past week, I believe it still holds up as a compelling novel about a man whose diverse experience refine and purify him as surely as a refiner’s fire purifies silver.

Publisher’s Description: “Born on an illegal immigrant ship off the coast of Palestine, Marshall Pearl is immediately orphaned and soon brought to America, where he grows up amidst fascinating and idiosyncratic privilege that is, however, not nearly as influential in regard to his formation as the pull of his origins though they are unknown to him. A cross between Fielding´s Tom Jones and the story of Moses, Refiner´s Fire is a great and colorful adventure that ends in a crucible of battle, suffering, and death, from which Marshall Pearl rises purely by the grace of God. Addressing the holy and the profane, but never heavy handedly, it is not so much a meditation on the fate of the Jews after the Holocaust, the rise of Israel, and the spirit of America, as it is an elegy and a song in which the powers of life and regeneration are shown to gorgeous effect.”

From the Reviews: 

  • “Mark Helprin, who must be legend to his friends, risks more than most novelists dare in ten years. Helprin writes like a saint, plots like a demon, and has an imagination that would be felonious in all but the larger democracies . . . . The sound that drowns all others in this novel is that of kingdom-come ignition.” (The Village Voice)
  • “Marvelous . . . . A brilliantly sinuous tale that sets an Augie March-like young man into a Gabriel Garcia Marquez universe . . . There are so many things to admire in Mark Helprin’s first novel that one’s problem is where to begin.” (Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review)

From the Novel: “You know,” said Al in a daze of hunger and cold, “when you see this, you realize that despite all the crap that goes on in the cities, despite all the words and accusations, the country has balance and momentum. The whole thing is symmetrical and beautiful; it works. The cities are like bulbs on a Christmas tree. They may bum, swell, and shatter, but the green stays green. Look at it,” he said, eyes fixed on the horizon, not unmoved by the motion of the train. “Look at it. It’s alive.”

There is a lot of magic in Helprin’s writing, though I believe he doesn’t care for the term “magical realism” and doesn’t see his work in that way. However, the fact that much of this novel is told in flashbacks dreamt by protagonist Matther Pearl, allows Helprin a lot of flexibility in his use of dazzling images and exuberant language. I’m glad I experienced the story again.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two, magical realism “conjure and crime” novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”