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.

In the jingle jangle morning

The song has a bright, expansive melody and has become famous for its surrealistic imagery, influenced by artists as diverse as French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. The lyrics call on the title character to play a song and the narrator will follow. Interpretations of the lyrics have included a paean to drugs such as LSD, a call to the singer’s muse, a reflection of the audience’s demands on the singer, and religious interpretations. – Wikipedia

Bob Dylan released “Mr. Tambourine Man” in March 1965 in his “Bring It All Back Home” album when I was at the last place I wanted to be (college), tied down, I thought, by an ancient canon of learning that was taught and graded in an ancient style of “education” that did not meet my needs nor my temperament. What would have met my needs would have been saying “to tell with all this” and then telling Mr. Tambourine man “I’ll come following you.”

Five years later, Gordon Lightfoot released a song with a similar intent, “Minstrel of the Dawn” on his “If You Could Read My Mind” album when I was–once again–in the last place I wanted to be (the navy) freshly returned from Vietnam and a war I did not support then serving (ironically) on the staff at the navy’s boot camp where I helped prepare others to go to the place I just left. I soon became a conscientious objector and left the navy having become a convert to the minstrelsy of the “Minstrel of the Dawn” in the jingle jangle of a new morning.

Because of my belief in dreams, I am nothing if not impractical, and heavily influenced–actually under the spell–of these two songs for a lifetime, and while I cannot duplicate the quality of the songs, much less an old-time Troubador, I have always infused their spirit and spell in my work. That is to say, I lead my characters astray and want to hypnotize readers into following them–as Lightfoot says–“While the old guitar rings.”

Some have said Mr. Tambourine man is about losing oneself to drugs, a notion that Dylan denies. Like most writers, I’m dealing something more dangerous than drugs: words and stories spun into haunting and irresistible dreams. If the government ever figures out the truth about stories, they’ll either ban them or heavily tax them.

If you read fiction, you know that stories are written to make you “forget about today until tomorrow” while trying to “get into things more happy than blue.” There are side effects to such stories that are more dangerous than those attached to Fentanyl and Oxycontin: addiction to freedom and dreams. I’ve been prescribed Oxycontin at least three times and never got addicted because stories were always a much great temptation.

Money-wise, the street value of stories is less than the street value of Fentanyl and Oxycontin. However, I should mention that there’s no cure for stories. It won’t matter because, in your jingle-jangle mornings, you’ll be too far out in space to want one.

Malcolm

Click on my name to see the stories in my bag.

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s error: violating your point of view choice

Very few authors these days use an omniscient point of view, so I find it quite jarring when an author writing in third person restricted suddenly tacks an omniscient sentence onto the end of a scene or chapter as a cheap way of creating suspense.

If the reader thinks your writing process looks like this, s/he might not finish the book.

When you’re writing in third person restricted, the reader only knows what the character knows. That said, it’s a foul to have the main character step out of a house, get in his car and drive off, and then follow that with Bob didn’t see the man in the woods across from his house taking pictures.

If Bob didn’t see it, it can’t be in the book.

I’m reading a black ops book by a name author who writes a lot of these novels, and he’s been cheating on his point of view with these kinds of sloppy POV deviations  throughout the book. I’m used to them, but I don’t like them. And I wonder why the line editor at his publishing house let them get into the published copy.

Malcolm

Does “Bestseller” Influence Your Book Buying?

When the Pulitzers and other prizes are announced, news stories inform us that more people start buying those books. I suppose the same is true for books that become bestsellers even though that appears to happen while the book is en route to the bestseller lists rather than as the immediate response after an award is announced.

Traditionally, I stay away from bestsellers because, while pricing has changed, they usually cost more than I want to pay, so I traditionally have waited for the hardcover and trade paperback editions to run their course and hold out for the mass market paperback edition.

Some people are immune to bestseller lists because they only read genre books rather than “general fiction.” Others scan the lists for authors they’ve enjoyed reading in the past. So the fact that the book is a bestseller isn’t their main concern other than that status creates buzz and makes it more likely to be noticed.

I tend to read all of the books by certain authors (Donna Tartt, Mark Helprin, Pat Conroy, Erin Morgenstern), the latest books in series I’ve gotten hooked on (e.g., Dean Knoontz’ Jane Hawke series), and magical realism books such as those by Alice Hoffman. Otherwise, it often takes me many months to decide on a bestseller from an author I know little about (still haven’t bought Where the Crawdads Sing, but am tempted.)

The bestseller list at the beginning of this post is the NYT listing on Amazon today. See anything you like? American Dirt has gotten mired in controversy. I seldom read anything by J.D. Robb. I may ultimately read the Ann Patchett book if I run low on reading material. Friends’ viewpoints about any of these might influence me except when those friends either (a) read nothing but a genre I don’t like, or (b) read only the most politically correct books of the year.)

My approach to buying what I buy ends up being chaotic with plenty of madness in my “method.” Since I’m always reading a book, I mean daily, I don’t understand people who read one book a year or stopped reading books once they finished their last English course in school.

How do you decide to buy the books you buy?

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

Books: ‘The Mermaid’s Sister’ by Carrie Anne Noble

What a delightful story to re-read on a cold, windy day. I mentioned it here before in a post about magical realism books on Amazon. Published in 2015, this was Carrie Anne Noble’s debut young adult novel and it’s done well. (It has won several awards, has 3,394 ratings on Amazon and is a bestseller in the folklore category.)

Publisher’s Description

There is no cure for being who you really are…

In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions; by night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphaned infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.

One day, Clara discovers iridescent scales just beneath her sister’s skin: Maren is becoming a mermaid and must be taken to the sea or she will die. So Clara, O’Neill, and the mermaid-girl set out for the shore. But the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening Maren.

And always in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?

Noble says on her website that her favorite authors are Mervyn Peake, Neil Gaiman, Maggie Stiefvater, Ardyth Kennelly, Catherine Cookson, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. If you like any or all of them, you’ll probably enjoy The Mermaid’s Sister as well. Noble published The Gold-Son in 2017.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Review: ‘The Ten Thousand Doors of January,” by Alix E. Harrow

On July 26, 2018, Alix E. Harrow–an award-winning author of short fiction, posted a blog entry called “Holy Cats, I sold my book” in which she called the pending publication: “Big, life-altering, universe-skewing, time-space-continuum-wrecking news.”

Her reaction also describes the book, a mix of magical realism and fantasy, with a delightful plot that bends time and space in upon themselves as–quite possibly–an illustration of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics. Fortunately, you don’t need to know anything about quantum theory to follow the story.

What you do need is a wide-open, non-judgemental imagination because this story is quite a unique trip. No doubt, Harrow used that kind of imagination to write the book, to follow the world-leaping exploits of her main character January Scaller who learns–while looking for her parents and running from the bad guys–how to travel between worlds as easily as walking from here to there and (with luck) back again.

Her plotting, language, and tone are among the best I’ve seen through ten thousand hours of reading every book I could get my hands on. Each of those books was a door into a new world, a fact you’ll believe more firmly than ever by the time you finish “The Ten Thousand Doors of January.” In fact, you’re more likely than ever to discover new worlds after reading this beautiful (and beautifully written) debut novel.

It’s a big, life-altering, universe-skewing, time-space-continuum-wrecking novel.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and stories.

Review: ‘The Lake of Learning’ by Rose and Berry

The Lake of Learning (Cassiopeia Vitt Adventure, #3)The Lake of Learning by Steve Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novella, and “The Museum of Mysteries,” represent everything a good novella should provide for readers: strong characters, mysterious stories based on heavily researched history, conflicts that are not easy to resolve, and a compelling storyline that leaves the reader wishing the book went another 500 pages farther than it did.

This story focusses on the Cathar religion, a system of beliefs that the Catholic church considered heretical and then killed the adherents in a crusade launched in 1209 and later during the inquisition. However, Cathars still exist today, and it’s about them–and the discovery of an old Cathar book of hours–that’s the focus of this story.

An old book is found on a construction site, and suddenly opposing Papist and Cathar individuals insert themselves into the story, creating a dangerous game for the protagonist Cassiopeia Vitt. Old conflicts die hard, it seems, as those who believe and those who don’t believe put Vitt’s life, wealth, and company in danger.

Books like this not only have compelling stories but teach readers a lot about the subject matter. In this case, the authors’ note at the end of the book what separates fact from fiction so that readers can see what’s true, what’s imaginary (but possible), and where to follow the historical record for themselves.

The characters in this novel (both the ones you like the and the ones you don’t like) not only have great depth to them, but they’re experts in their fields and savvy about everything that surrounds their areas of interest. If you have an interest in the Cathars, you will enjoy this novella. But even if you don’t, the fascination of a well-told tale will keep you reading.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

The 2019 National Book Awards Longlist: Fiction 

This week, The New Yorker is announcing the longlists for the 2019 National Book Awards. This morning, we present the ten contenders in the category of Fiction. Earlier this week, we published longlists for Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature.

Source: The 2019 National Book Awards Longlist: Fiction | The New Yorker

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here’s the long list for the fiction category the National Book Awards.

One criticism, I often hear for these awards and the Pulitzer Prizes for fiction is that most people have either never heard of, much less read, many of the winners.

That makes me wonder whether the fiction awards really focus on work that is viable, important, and in tune with the times or if they focus on material which is so far off the beaten track that they are actually oblivious to the times.

What do you think?

Here’s the list from New Yorker Magazine:

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, “Fleishman Is in Trouble
Random House / Penguin Random House

Susan Choi, “Trust Exercise
Henry Holt & Company / Macmillan Publishers

Kali Fajardo-Anstine, “Sabrina & Corina: Stories
One World / Penguin Random House

Marlon James, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Laila Lalami, “The Other Americans
Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House

Kimberly King Parsons, “Black Light: Stories
Vintage / Penguin Random House

Helen Phillips, “The Need
Simon & Schuster

Julia Phillips, “Disappearing Earth
Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House

Ocean Vuong, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Penguin Press / Penguin Random House

Colson Whitehead, “The Nickel Boys
Doubleday / Penguin Random House

I’ve read The Nickel Boys and, while it was powerful, I thought it had an author’s trickery in it that kept it from working for me.

–Malcolm