A shortlist of stuff

  • Today’s bad weather in Georgia came and went between dawn and noon. No tornados. Blowing rain and river flooding.
  • Just wondering why I didn’t write Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A comment from the character Miss Harty about Billy Sunday sets the tone for the novel: “There was great excitement. Mr. Sunday got up and declared at the top of his voice that Savannah was ‘the wickedest city in the world!’ Well, of course, we all thought that was perfectly marvelous.”
  • Regardless of which side of the political divide we live on, I think all of us are tired of the crap at the Mexican border. We don’t need to mistreat people, nor do we need to be emotionally brainwashed into letting everyone in. This isn’t rocket science.
  • I guess I’ve led a sheltered life. I’ve been vaccinated against mostly everything and haven’t given it a second thought. Now with COVID, I’m learning there are people whose distrust of vaccines is (for them) like holy writ. I don’t understand that. But it does raise the question about whether or not forced vaccinations and vaccination cards are too much government. I see this as rather like the Brits mandating blackout curtains during the blitz: it makes us all safer as long as the cops don’t hassle us on the street asking to see “our papers.”
  • The ninth book in Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series Go Tell The Bees That I’m Gone will be published this year (I think). I’ve read all the primary novels in the series, but few of those based on secondary characters. Who knew when this storyline began that reading it would be a lifetime pursuit? But I’ll probably get a copy after we get out of the expensive hardcover phase of book releases. I’m a Scot. I’m cheap even though I met Diana years ago in Atlanta.
  • A friend of mine will probably have to drive several states away from her home to look after her aging parents again. Her last visit was more dear than she expected and yet she wonders why none of her siblings will lend a hand. She’s just as busy as her siblings, but they have unending excuses for not helping. Elderly parents often make decisions that make life harder for their children, and usually, the difficulties are left to the oldest daughter to solve.
  • The Glacier Park employees’ reunion will take place this summer at Many Glacier Hotel. They happen from time to time but are too far away for me to attend. Everyone was worried about access to the east side of the park, but the Blackfeet Reservation has announced it will be open for travelers going to the park (unlike last summer). I will miss it more than I can say.

–Malcolm

I’ve written several novels set in the park.

Do as Diana Gabaldon does, not as I do

Those of us who were members of the former CompuServe Literary Forum witnessed the birth of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. She uploaded snippets of the work in progress, encouraged discussions about them, and later when she became a successful author continued to support the forum and answer our questions about the art and craft and business of writing novels. Her gracious support of other writers included her writing a blurb for my novel The Sun Singer.

In our craft discussions, she and I disagreed on one thing. And that was, should the author stop writing while completing a gap in the research, or should s/he continue writing and fill in the correct information later?

She said: “Keep writing.” I said: “Stop writing.”

She argued that when the author was on a roll, stopping to fill in historical or other information would simply derail the flow of the novel and the author’s daily writing process.

I argued that writing while something is still unknown could very well send the novel down the “wrong road” and necessitate a lot of needless rewriting later.

She preferred to put a “placeholder” in the manuscript, reminding her that she still had some facts to verify before submitting the book to her agent.

I preferred (and still prefer) to know the facts–whether they apply to history, geography, customs, or whatever–before I write the next scene or chapter.

It goes without saying that her Outlander series of books–and their spinoffs–have been infinitely more successful than my novels. So, I suggest you follow her advice and keep putting words down on the page even if you’re not finished verifying your information.

The fact that I’m eight years older than Diana doesn’t mean that I have more wisdom. It simply means that I’m eight years more set in my ways. I’ll freely admit that as I continue pausing my writing while checking my facts.

If you’re not set in your ways, putting a placeholder in our MS is probably the smart thing to do until you have time to look up what you still need to lookup.

Malcolm

My novel-in-progress, “Weeping Wall,” sat for several months while I verified the geological information I needed in the first paragraph.

Keeping those sequels consistent

At a book signing for his award-winning novel A Distant Flame, Philip Lee Williams told us that before he started worked on the manuscript, he created a timeline showing where everyone was at every moment as Union troops approached Atlanta. I told him my wife was going to hear about that because she thinks I’m overly picky about research. He said a lot of people’s eyes glazed over at the thought of such a timeline.

sequelI’ve been reading Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander Series” ever since the first book appeared in 1991. I’m reading Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (2014) now. I doubt she outlined all of the English, Scots, and American history her series has covered leading up to the current novel set during the American revolution.

But her large, 800-page books are remarkably detailed and have a large cast of characters on multiple timelines. I wonder how she keeps it all straight. I wonder if Williams would have to re-read A Distant Flame in addition to his Civil War timeline if he wrote a sequel.

sequel2Readers–like Star Trek fans–are always the first to catch inconsistencies the author and his/her editors missed. A minor character’s eyes change color between books or episodes, a battle fought one year is suddenly at a different time and place, a person who said he didn’t know the main character turns out to have met them dozens of times in earlier books.

I’m an intuitive writer. That means I never outline anything and don’t know before writing a scene how it’s going to end. I’ve had a good editor and she sees things I miss. But she can’t fix major goofs. I worried about making Sarabande consistent with The Sun Singer. And now, as I work on a sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat, I’m amazed at how often I have to go back and check things to make sure the new book isn’t out of sync with the earlier book.

This is the only time I wish I were disciplined enough to write an outline. Truth be told, I sort of cheated in English classes where we were expected to turn in both the outline and the term paper because I always wrote the outline after the paper was done. I suppose I can do now, but my eyes glaze over at the thought.

It’s strange re-reading ones own work. I come across passages that I’m surprised that I was able to write. Other passages, I wish I’d handled slightly differently. And I marvel at how my detail-oriented mind will consider the growing seasons of plants the characters see while hiking through the woods, but cannot remember who they were hiking with.

Of course, if you’re submitting to major publishers and agents, they’re going to require a synopsis. I’ve written those several times and have to confess that having them later on as reference does help keep sequels consistent. Some writers make character lists and spend a great deal of time writing little character studies about them that include height, weight, eye color, hair color, and other details. If I did that, I wouldn’t have to search through my previous books using terms like “hair” or “eyes” to see what color I chose.

It’s not that that stuff doesn’t matter. It does. It’s an important part of making the character and his/her actions seem real and valid. Nobody ever accused me of having an encyclopedic mind. I’m horrible at Scrabble, Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. I think it all goes back to a college geology course in which the teacher said, in this class we don’t memorize things for tests; instead, we talk about larger concepts because anyone with a good set of reference books can look up the details.

That was my new mantra. Never again would I consider listing all the battles of a war and memorizing the dates they happened–much less all the characters in one of my books and the colors of their eyes, hair and favorite shirts and blouses.

While, I love writing without an outline, it plays hell with keeping all the facts straight when it’s time to write a sequel. Yes, I know, I can forget writing sequels. Unfortunately, I like the characters too much and can easily think of more stories to tell about them.

If you write, how do you keep your characters straight from book to book to book. If you read novels in a series, do you catch yourself going back to earlier books because you think the author has gotten something backwards?

Since I write magical realism, fantasy and paranormal stories, I’m ready for any reader who finds any inconsistency. “Hey, Dude, it’s magic.”

–Malcolm

SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Sarabande,” a contemporary fantasy coming out in a new edition from Thomas-Jacob Publishing on November 1. You can pre-order the Kindle edition now.

Friday Finds: ‘The Space Between’ by Diana Gabaldon

FRIDAY FINDS, hosted Should Be Reading, showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

SpaceBetweenI’ve been reading Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander Series” since it began in 1991. The latest novel in the series, An Echo in the Bone, was released in 2009, with Written in My Own Heart’s Blood expected this June.

While waiting for the June release, I was happy to find Gabaldon’s novella, The Space Between, which came out last month.

From the Publisher

Joan MacKimmie is on her way to Paris to take up her vocation as a nun. Yet her decision is less a matter of faith than fear, for Joan is plagued by mysterious voices that speak of the future, and by visions that mark those about to die. The sanctuary of the nunnery promises respite from these unwanted visitations . . . or so she prays. Her chaperone is Michael Murray, a young widower who, though he still mourns the death of his wife, finds himself powerfully drawn to his charge. But when the time-traveling Comte St. Germain learns of Joan’s presence in Paris, and of her link to Claire Fraser—La Dame Blanche—Murray is drawn into a battle whose stakes are not merely the life but the very soul of the Scotswoman who, without even trying, has won his heart.

While this book, like A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (2012), is outside the mainstream series, it’s an interesting look at related characters and themes.

Malcolm

SeekerCoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Garden of Heaven Series, a three-book fantasy and magical realism saga, including “The Seeker,” “The Sailor” and “The Betrayed.”

 

Book Review: ‘An Echo in the Bone’

An Echo in the Bone (Outlander, #7) An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Like many fans of the “Outlander” series, I “met” author Diana Gabaldon on an online literary forum in the days of yore when CompuServe was the Internet service provider. At the time, Diana was posting what she referred to as “chunks” of her work-in-progress and garnering very enthusiastic comments and a fair amount of interesting discussion. The excerpts were so fluid and natural, I fair thought we might all end up speaking either Highland English or Gàidhlig before the manuscript was complete. In 1991, the writing chunks became “Outlander.”

In the years that followed, we traveled with Sassenach (English people and Lowlanders) Claire Beauchamp Randall through multiple countries in time lines beginning in 1945 and 1743. In 1945, she’s married to Frank Randall. In 1743, she’s in love with Highlander James Fraser.

As “Outlander” led to a sequel and then another sequel, I thought it rather presumptuous to review any of the installments of a series (heading toward 17 million copies sold in 21 languages and 24 countries) written by the very gracious mentor for the writers on the CompuServe Literary (now Books & Authors) Forum.

But 19 years and seven books have passed since I read the opening line “It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least not at first glance” as former combat nurse Claire Randall surveyed a 1945 Inverness bed and breakfast with “fading floral wallpaper” where she was celebrating a second honeymoon with Frank. Surely Diana would say “dinna fash” if I told her I was mustering up the grit to say a wee word or two.

Were I to distill this wordy review down to basics and say only a wee word or two, it would be this. “An Echo in the Bone” is the best book in the series since the first one.

Some readers have criticized the novel’s episodic presentation and multiple story lines. On the contrary, I view this approach as one of the novel’s many strengths, others being the evolving characterizations of individuals series readers have known for years, the exceptional detail and historical accuracy, and the author’s clear focus on the tension, danger and humor that make a darned fine story.

With “An Echo in the Bone,” we have regained the tension and tight plotting that we lost to come extent in “The Fiery Cross” and and “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” which spent too much time with everyday affairs at the expense of the stories’ primary thrusts. Well after “Outlander,” it was almost as though the uniqueness of a modern and highly skilled medical practitioner living two centuries before her own time was being asked to carry too much of the books’ weight.

“An Echo in the Bone,” however, is exceptionally strong. Multiple characters grow in multiple times and places, and the episodic approach strengthens the drama of the strong doses of harm’s way in each lifeline we’re following. Drama is not contained by linear time, a fact Diana has proven many times over, and this time out, she has honed her writer’s scalpel to a fine edge indeed.

The use Fort Ticonderoga and the September and October 1777 Battles of Saratoga as a major focal point anchors the novel in historic time and provides a memorable counterpane for compelling action sequences and character development without losing the series hallmark (often earthy and humorous) interactions between a feisty Sassenach and a volatile Highlander.

No one need try to read “An Echo in the Bone” as a standalone novel, for the characters have too much history for that and there’s no way to catch up with it short of, say, adding some distracting and/or helpful footnotes. And then there’s the cliffhanger ending, or–more accurately–the multiple cliffhanger endings. Some readers are saying (basically), “Diana, how can you do this to us?”

My last wee world or two is: How can she not, for storytelling doesn’t get better than this.

View all my reviews >>

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

With each purchase of my novel “The Sun Singer” in any format, Vanilla Heart Publishing makes a donation to Glacier National Park in support of this year’s centennial celebration. It’s only $5.99 on Kindle.

“The Sun Singer,” an adventure novel that also bends time, is set in Glacier National Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley.

Congratulations Diana Gabaldon

EchoCoverUSAWhile I’ve only met author Diana Gabaldon once, I feel like I’ve known her for years. During the past twenty years, I’ve been a member of the CompuServe Books and Writers forum where many people (including myself) have come and gone as newer venues like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook competed for our time. But during this entire time, Diana has not only been a faithful member of the forum, but a mentor to us as well.

She has posted her novels in progress for discussion. She has read our work (including my novel “The Sun Singer”) in progress and offered encouragement and suggestions. She has always been there with gracious and and detailed answers to our questions about writing, publishing, agents, research and anything else remotely related to reading and writing good books.

DianaGabaldonSo, it pleases me no end to see that the latest novel in her Outlander Series is sitting at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. If this weren’t another Dan Brown mega year, “Echo in the Bone” would be sitting at #1.

Beginning with “Outlander” in 1998, six novels in the series lead up to “Echo in the Bone.” And for those of us who have been avid readers, we understand that this novel isn’t the last one about Jamie and Claire and their wonderful saga through time and through history.

Malcolm