Briefly Noted: ‘Waltzing Montana’

Mary Clearman Blew grew up on a small cattle ranch in Montana, on the site of her great-grandfather’s 1882 homestead. Her memoir “All But the Waltz: Essays on a Montana Family,” won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, as did her short story collection, “Runaway.” – Author’s Website

Waltzing Montana, University of Nebraska Press, March 1, 2021, 294 pp.

A refreshing and original story by an author who knews the territory. Blew is a writing professor at the Univerfsity of Idaho.

From the Publisher:

Midwife Mildred Harrington is riding back home one evening after checking on one of her pregnant neighbors when she stumbles upon an injured stranger. She soon realizes it’s her old sweetheart, Pat, from country school—and he may not be telling the full truth about how he was injured.

Set in rural Montana in 1925, Waltzing Montana follows Mildred as she grapples with feelings for Pat while also trying to overcome the horrific abuse she suffered as a young teenager. Ultimately Mildred must decide whether to continue her isolated life or accept the hand extended to her.

Inspired by the life of midwife Edna McGuire (1885–1969), who operated a sheep ranch in central Montana, Blew has turned the classic Western on its head, focusing on rural women and the gender and diversity challenges they faced during the 1920s.

Editorial Review:

“What we need most right now are stories that are down-to-the-bone authentic, and Mary Clearman Blew gives us one with her new novel, Waltzing Montana. The women and men in this book are not only resilient but find their true meaning in forging through challenge: drought, war, and the Spanish flu pandemic. And yet Blew artfully nods to their limits too. There’s only so much brutality a person can endure, and the ravages of pain and abandonment Blew portrays in these pages stir acts of forgiveness, patience, and abiding friendship, which allow the deepest wounds to finally heal.”—Debra Gwartney, author of I Am a Stranger Here Myself

The book has an apt and lovely cover; my only concern here is that the title and author’s name need to be more visible.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Available on Nook from B&N

 

 

Shoot them now while they’re still happy

That was Dorothy Parker’s advice for those who had friends who wanted to be writers.

When I was a college English department instructor, my “Bible” was The End of Intelligent Writing: Literary Politics in America (1974) by Richard Kostelanetz. My colleagues thought it was overly grim, though they didn’t worry about literary politics because they weren’t teaching their students how to become writers. Their students were simply supposed to enjoy literature and then if they enjoyed it enough, teach it to others.

It was a closed-loop quite soundly divorced from considerations of what it took to write and produce that literature. According to my “Bible” prospective writers were up against a closed club. The author called “The New York Review of Books” the New York Review of Each Other’s Books. The club would let you in if you, say–killed somebody and wrote a book about it or if you were a famous, and hopefully infamous, celebrity submitting a tell-all book about almost anything. But fiction: a hard sell then and now.

I should have been a firefighter.

I’ve been haunted for years by the words of author Lila Shaara posted in Beatrice in 2006: “I grew up seeing writing as something that gripped you in poisoned talons, gave you little or nothing back, drove you to addiction and depression, and killed you young.”

Some writers will disagree. They are the 1% who dodged the bullet when we tried to shoot them and somehow clawed their way through the politics of publishers and agents and against overwhelming odds, and are still happy. (Too happy, I would say, from what I read in their newsletters.) The other 99% are insane or selling used cars in Fargo.

Once upon a time, there was a gag that most newspapermen and women thought they had a book inside them, the response being, that was a good place for it to stay. I agree. These days, they can self-publish and potentially earn enough per month to buy a happy meal. I’m not sure that’s an improvement over the world of 1974 when who you were dictated whether or not you succeeded. Or met with an “accident.”

I think the Mafia operates the same way,

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

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Panic Grass – a writer’s dream name

Wikipedia photo

I love double meanings. That’s why I like the name “panic grass.” It has nothing to do with panic–that comes from Panicum–but the use of the word when describing an environment where (in your story) things are going wrong is a nice subliminal trick.

The common or regional names of many plants will help you create the kind of ambiance you want. Perhaps that’s cheating.  But I don’t care as long as the name is factual and also likely to be used in the place where my story is set.

If you have a good plant or wildflower guide for your state or region, you’ll find a lot of “local color.” I have these guides for both Florida and Montana. They not only help me describe the location but support my addiction to puns and words with double meanings such as “spurned panic grass.”

The guidebooks also ensure that the flowers in your stories are blooming at the time of the year when they bloom in “real life.”

–Malcolm

Giveaway: ‘Mountain Song’

My Montana novel Mountain Song will be free on Kindle for three days, February 8 through February 10. Previously called The Seeker, the novel is the first of my two David Ward novels. At Sea is the sequel.

Description

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?

Background

This novel is set in Glacier National Park Montana where I worked for two summers as a resort hotel employee. It’s also set at a fictional Montana sheep ranch and at a real Florida Panhandle swamp. The characters move around a bit, one might say. The mountain on the cover is named Heavy Shield, previously Mt. Wilbur, and can be seen across Swiftcurrent Lake from Many Glacier Hotel on the east side of the park.

You can find information about all of my books on my website.

–Malcolm

New Title: ‘Parables Ironic and Grotesque’

Oblique Voices Press of Portland, Oregon has released a selection of dark satire stories by author and George Fox University Professor Emeritus Douglas G. Campbell, Parables Ironic and Grotesque

From the Publisher

Irony reigns in these biting and ofttimes darkly humorous tales. Campbell invites us to ponder upon the common follies of his fellow man, highlighting such weaknesses as pride, selfishness, fear, and greed, and pointing out the further foolishness of ignoring such shortcomings. Allegorical in nature, this body of work challenges the reader to a closer look into their own frailties and deficiencies and invites him to a healthy dose of quiet introspection.

From the Foreword by Jay Beaman, PhD

The irony of this artifact, this book, is the irony of how we communicate with each other in post-speak society. In the cyber-world, I can send off a message, and a few seconds later someone else speaks back to me or at me with a tweet, but usually there is a time interval between parts of the same message. Alexander Graham Bell’s first message on the telephone, “Mr. Watson –come here- I want to see you,” was instantaneous and continuous. Cyber-communication is discontinuous, disjunctive, and in that sense ironic. Here we are just now getting around to reading a book by Doug Campbell, written when he was a great speaker, when his voice was in the moment, some years ago before his stroke. Given his current difficulty in saying words, it is ironic to read such prescient work written about our society. I hope to have lunch with Doug again in days, and our conversation will be halting, frustrating, even primitive. But here I read him with such thoughtful and deft clarity. Doug loves puns, like his painting of a frog workshop, titled “toad’s tools.” This book is filled with puns. I hope Doug will forgive me for my pun, quite in bad taste, but written with deepest empathy, I weep as I write it, that this book reads like “a stroke of genius.”

I won’t commit the faux pax of reviewing my brother’s book, though I have to say, I love puns, satire, and irony and find this collection (in those terms) a comforting read.

Malcolm

 

Writers want to sweep you up into their stories

“Magic doesn’t sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine — to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it.” – David Abram, “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology”

An ancient campfire beneath a fetching moon. Trees standing close, listening to a storyteller spin out a tale that captures the imaginations of those sitting around the fire so completely that the listeners see no boundary lines between themselves and the characters within the story. Truly, there is no outside at this point, no separation between the words and the trees and the moonlight and the derring-do of the far-away people whom the storyteller conjures into the world of that very moment.

As Wikipedia says, “Through the telling of the story people become psychically close, developing a connection to one another through the communal experience. The storyteller reveals, and thus shares, him/her self through his/her telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story.”

Creating such shared moments is more difficult in a book because the storyteller and reader are worlds away from each other physically until or unless the words are strong enough and vibrating powerfully enough to dissolve the illusion of physical distance. When the book works for a reader, the experience becomes as powerful as the campfire scene where all is connected.

To be sure, the connection between writer and reader depends not only on the skill of the writer, but the a reader’s (often) long-time experience with books (how they work), the subject matter, the reader’s state of mind and (probably) physical comfort. When conditions are optimal, the reader is swept up into the story as though s/he is sitting with the storyteller next to a fire in a quiet forest or within cabin’s sweet shadows.

Books for prospective writers try very hard to teach us what we need to do while researching and writing to ensure that conditions are optimal. My approach–which doesn’t necessarily work for all writers–is that the writer must first be swept up by the story and its characters before s/he can produce a novel that sweeps up readers in the way David Abram suggests.

No matter how a writer connects with his/her story, getting those conditions right takes practice. Nobody sounds like Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, or John Coltrane the first time they pick up a tenor sax. Nobody writes like Stephen King, John Hart, or Neil Gaiman the first time they pick up a pencil or sit down at a computer. All of these people evolved into the people they became. 

Time seems to fly while writers are becoming comfortable with words, plots, techniques, character development, and magic. In a world where many people want everything right now, it’s difficult to submit to the necessity of practice. Even the wizards at Hogwarts needed to practice their spells. So do storytellers dreaming of campfires and writers dreaming of books and short stories.

After that, the magic begins to work behind the scenes and become second nature to the man or woman with the pencil. 

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism series of novels that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and ends with “Fate’s Arrows.”

 

My books take me by surprise

Writing books is fun because once I get into the story, I want to know how it’s going to end. I promise I have no idea until I get there.

I thought of writing Fate’s Arrows because a new character named Pollyanna showed up out of nowhere in Lena, my previous novel. She had a lot of sparkle and energy, so I thought, “Hmm, maybe she has enough spunk to carry a new novel on her own–rather like an actress with a small role in one movie who ends up staring in the studio’s next movie.”

While I planned for Fate’s Arrows to be a standalone novel, I set it in the same fictional town (Torreya) where the Florida Folk Magic Series was set. It’s not surprising, then, that the characters from the series began showing up and found important things to do.

Fate’s Arrows relies less on conjure and more on Pollyanna’s skills, skills that readers learn about as the story moves along. I can’t mention them here because they would be spoilers. Suffice it to say, she is a lot more than she appears while sitting behind the counter in the Mercantile balancing Lane Walker’s books. If you’re a bad person, don’t mess with her.

The Big Al’s Books and Pals nailed it in her review when she said, “Malcolm R Campbell is an author who has lived in the Florida panhandle (where this novel is set) and is old enough to remember the final days of the KKK. His anger about that organisation continues to burn, and this is an angry book.” 

I needed a protagonist who had the same hatred for the KKK I’ve always had and who had the guile and the grit to do something about it. If I’d tried to take the action she takes in the novel when I lived in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s and 1960s, I probably would have gotten killed–or worse.

Of course, Pollyanna has a strong supporting cast from the earlier books: Eulalie the conjure woman and her cat Lena, Willie Tate who knows how to get people out of trouble, Police chief Rudy Flowers, and others.

I admire Pollyanna and I think you will, too. She kept surprising me every with every risk she took.

Malcolm

From one magic to another

When I wrote my contemporary fantasies, The Sun Singer and Sarabande, I was following the tropes of the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey. The magic infused in these books was hermetic, that is to say, it followed old western magic traditions that were (and still can be) found in mystery schools, Tarot, the Tree of Life, and–in general–the western esoteric traditions.

Aeon Trump Card. Thoth Deck

There was supposed to be a third book named Aeon, yet I was unable to write it when I finished Sarabande because the protagonist was an avatar and I didn’t know enough to write a book from his point of view. I still don’t. But it’s time, now, to give it a try.

Meanwhile, I’ve written four novels–the folk magic series–that focus on conjure, also known as hoodoo. This magic follows some traditions that came out of Africa and, in this country, became blended with Christianity and Witchcraft. There are too many practices and beliefs here so summarize them, but suffice it to say, they are not part of western mysticism and traditions that go back to the Greco-Roman mysteries.

Apples and oranges, in some respects. Different ways of approaching the same truths, in other respects. I have a great appreciation for all the paths leading to transformation into being at one with the universe and understanding the powers we all have if we take time to find them.

I’ve been taking some time researching western esoteric traditions again as well as what I wrote in the two earlier novels so that events and intentions are consistent. I view the Aeon Tarot card (XX) as a step past the Sun card (XIX) where the seeker on the path has stepped into the arena of the actual universe “behind” the illusory universe we see with our physical senses.

Needless to say, I’m not an avatar, so I’m going to be relying on my imagination and intuition and a lifetime of experience with the Thoth Tarot deck to get this new novel into shape. Don’t hold your breath.  At any rate, I’m enjoying getting back the magic I started out with.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s latest folk magic novel is “Fate’s Arrows.

 

Awash in dangerous nostalgia

When an author’s novels are set in the world of his childhood, the nostalgia of those old days might come out of the woodwork and turn his writing into melodrama. That’s the last thing I want.

St.-John Perse

One of my favorite poets, St.-John Perse, wrote in “To Celebrate a Childhood,” (which most of today’s critics would consider overly dramatic), “Other than childhood, what is there in those days that is not here today?”

Wikipedia Graphic

Depending on how you see the question, the answer can be either “everything” or “very little.” I have this paradoxical view of my own childhood in the Florida Panhandle. Every once in a while, somebody posts a photograph of an old appliance on Facebook and asks “who knows what this is?” My generation knows; younger people seldom know.

Pork Chop Gang

The same is true with the news that was common during my childhood years: themes and practices, and people that I often reference in my books such as “Wop Salad” and Florida’s notorious “Pork Chop Gang.” (I feel no nostalgia for these two things, by the way.)

My nostalgia arises when I think of Boy Scout camping trips, all the hours spent sailing, scuba diving, and water skiing down at the coast, delivering telegrams and newspapers, and exploring the panhandle’s backroads–many not paved–in my old car. And, too, I recall old friends, many of whom taught me how to love the panhandle–something I thought I would never do. (As a California native, I was always considered an outsider.)

KKK

If I learned anything scary in those days (except during the Cuban missile crisis), it was to fear the KKK because they were everywhere, and I wonder now–as I did then–how many family friends and acquaintances were members.  I’m surprised we never had a cross burnt in our front yard because my folks were liberal, we went to a liberal church, and people we knew well had experienced the wrath of the Klan. (No nostalgia here, by the way.)

My novel Mountain Song and my trilogy of novels in the Florida Folk Magic series have scenes set in the Florida Panhandle. Since these novels overlap the world of my childhood, I worked hard to keep the melodrama out of them. It’s often a fight because memories ofter bring back times when one was hurt or frightened or disrespected.

Keeping melodramatic personal memories out of the stories is part of an author’s work. That’s not always easy to do because, as I think of them, I’m as pissed off now as I was then. (The Campbell motto is “Forget Not.”) But I think we have to draw a line between our personal histories and our stories when we write novels. If we don’t, the novels can easily turn into rants rather than compelling fiction.

If you write, and if you set your stories and novels into the past you experienced, do you have trouble keeping your personal feelings out of it?

Malcolm 

I wish it were easy to add illustrations to my books

When I read old novels, I enjoy the engravers’ work. Sometimes the illustrations begin new chapters or appear in line with the text to add weight to a description. Whether or not one believes an illustration is worth a thousand words, the graphics, in my opinion, helped convey the novel’s places and characters and events to the readers.

I’m always happy when the publishers of modern-day novels take the trouble to add a reoccurring graphic at the book’s chapter beginnings, or better yet, graphics that fit the text here and there throughout the book.

Unless an author is an artist, the first roadblock today comes from having to hire an illustrator, and that might just be an expense that’s higher than what the book is projected to earn. Yes, there are stock agencies where one can find illustrations, but their use is typically limited to cover artwork.

The second issue is copyright. Sorting that out might be a nightmare to just determine who owns it; and then, if anyone does own it, getting permission and paying a fee to use it (sometimes waved for educational books).

In my case, I mention real products in my novels, partly to set the scene, partly to give the reader a sense of the times, and partly just to show what I’m talking about. For example, if I were writing a novel set in Montana in the 1800s, I would probably mention (or have the characters attend) one of the presentations of the traveling Shakespeare companies. Showing a handbill would be wonderful. Or, I would have one of my characters who likes chewing tobacco get swept up in the craze of related products. I love the artwork from the Juliet tobacco pouch.

If I could draw (ha ha), I might create a black-and-white illustration of the downtown of one of my made-up towns, showing what such a place might have looked like during the time when the novel is set. No, I don’t want a graphic novel. Just a few drawings to convey the ambiance of the stories.

Malcolm

My contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer” is currently free on Kindle.