Tag Archives: fiction

I’ve seen ghosts from both sides now

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When I was a kid, I read every psychic book I could get my hands on. Some were secular, some were based on religions where mystics were still honored, and others were spiritual in a much different sense than what I saw at church. Somewhere I read that if a person read what I was reading, they’d open themselves up to ghosts and other spirits, precognitive dreams, and waking visions. Well, all that was true enough.

Early on, I noticed a big difference between real shamans, witches, psychics, and mystics and the way all of these folks were portrayed by the organized church all the way back to the inquisition and such purges as the Cathar Crusade (1209-1229). The church saw these folks as heretics and, strangely, as devil worshippers, even though Satan was, more or less, a Jewish/Christian concept and had nothing to do with the spiritual people in the church’s gunsights. Yet, it served the church’s needs to paint everyone who was different as evil incarnate, a point of view that got picked up by Hollywood’s occult movie producers and writers. I’m always on the warpath when it comes to books and movies that turn ghosts, mystics, shamans, and witches into whatever untrue nastiness the writer or producer can imagine and then proceed to kill them in order to save humanity.

In “real life,” it’s still somewhat dangerous to speak out against these lies. Yes, every once in a while, somebody will say so and so is a witch and then look at me awaiting a wink and a nod of agreement. My response is, “So what?” This throws people for a loop, but they usually will tell me that so and so and so worships the devil. “She doesn’t believe in the devil,” I say. “Well, maybe not,” they respond. Okay, that conversation never goes anywhere good and it tends to get me shunned by a lot of people who think maybe I need to be watched carefully.

Fortunately, most people who read ghost stories–or even that phony occult crap–don’t think the authors are practitioners. And, we’re not. I’m not a conjurer, witch, or shaman. I don’t have an altar in my house covered with herbs, candles, pictures, and other arcane supplies. That’s all in my imagination. What I believe an author should do is tell the stories truly. That is, we can tell stories that fit what actual conjurers, witches, and shamans say and do rather than giving them the powers of, say, Voldemort out of the Harry Potter series along a boatload of evil motives.

Magical realism has given me a genre that works because it shows readers the everyday reality they’re used to seeing and then adds conjurers, witches, and shamans in their “natural habitats” rather than in some highly charged occult setting. My “Florida Folk Magic” series of novels is an example of this. On Monday, my publisher Thomas-Jacob will release Widely Scattered Ghosts,” my new collection of ghost stories. Most of these have something in common with my personal experiences, though my imagination may have strayed a bit.

When compared to the ghosts of horror/occult authors, these stories are very gentle even though you will find sadness and confusion in them along with a bit of humor. They’re not for kids. No, it’s not because of devil worship and gore, but from the psychological themes. Above all, I wanted the stories to be as true as fiction allows, and those of you who’ve tolerated this blog for years will know that I believe fiction is allowed to portray realities that facts cannot touch.

–Malcolm

Coming February 18th:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: ‘The Bishop’s Pawn’ by Steve Berry

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The Bishop's Pawn (Cotton Malone, #13)The Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Those who enjoy FBI and police procedurals, black ops, off-the-grid agencies, and loose-cannon agents will find a lot to like in this story from the long-running Cotton Malone series. Berry focuses on the FBI’s vendetta against the Martin Luther King, Jr. and his death on April 4, 1968. Malone is contacted because some old documents about King’s assassination are about to come to light. The old guard wants them destroyed (if they exist), while current investigators want the truth to come out.

Malone is thrust right into the middle of a playing field of rogue agents and underworld characters that are nothing like the day-to-day life of a JAG lawyer. He has skills, but he’s new at fighting bad guys on the street who are well-practiced at being bad guys. This is the genius of the book: a novice thrust into a volatile mix because those who ask him to go there appreciate the fact he’s a loose cannon.

The story holds together even though the characters Malone confronts have hidden and dangerous agendas or otherwise aren’t who they seem to be.

If there’s a flaw in the book, it’s the fact that it requires a lot of backstory to make sense to readers who weren’t around during the King era. This is the same issue people had with “The Da Vinci Code.” Without Dan Brown’s constant teaching, the story wouldn’t make sense even though that teaching bogged down the book. The teaching in this book bogs it down because quite a few words are devoted to it.

Nonetheless, I found the book compelling. It’s certainly a must read for those interested in the 1960s civil rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Malcolm

My memoir would only be full of lies

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This is the era of the memoir. That’s okay. Everyone has a story to tell. If you’re already famous, so much the better, especially when the real story includes sex, scandals, and heroics that the biographers and fan magazines missed.

I used to tell people I was raised by alligators near the town of Immokalee, Florida and that my dad, Papa Gator, was the inspiration for the section of road through the Everglades called Alligator Alley.

Surprisingly, few people thought this was true even though they appreciated the wisdom of Papa Gator and his attempts to gain respect from the snowbird northern tourists without having to sacrifice his eating habits. There’s no need to talk about that here because most of you would probably file those truths under Too Much Information.

In “real life” I was a college professor’s son in a middle-class brick house in a middle-class neighborhood. I delivered the morning newspaper, had a ham radio receiver and transmitter in my bedroom along with fresh water and salt water aquariums, and was an Eagle Scout. Where I “went wrong” was discovering that I could lie in such a way that people believed me, including my parents, teachers, pastors, and ladies of the evening whom we snuck into the church basement.

See, already you have here the basis for a successful lie. Looking at the previous sentence, most people will assume we snuck in hookers, while others will wonder if–inspire of the Oxford comma–we also snuck in parents, teachers, and pastors. I learned early on that successful lies needed to include enough verifiable facts to make them seem true along with certain areas of vagueness that were misleading. Case in point, when I told my parents I was going to swing by the library, they thought–as I knew they would–that I was actually going to go inside and study. I never said that but I was content with their view of my plans for the evening.

I didn’t like staying inside the house. So, during an evening when I said I was swinging by the library–which was the gospel truth of the matter–my 1954 Chevy and I were likely to be a hundred of miles away from home, usually following sandy roads through national forest lands and visiting places with multiple meanings in their names like the River Styx, Tate’s Hell Swamp, and Florida Garden of Eden.

A family friend wrote a popular book called The Other Florida about the state’s panhandle and I was determined to explore all of it. I thought I was simply getting away from it all. Little did I know I was inadvertently gathering facts and impressions about a series of conjure woman books I would one day write some fifty years in the future.

Of course, fiction and fact blur together. Such is my imagination. Is it a lie or is it fiction? When I write fiction, I always blur the lines between truth and myth, impressions and reality, and night and day. That’s who I am, and it grew out of the need I felt as a child to be secretive and to keep people from knowing who I was or where I was, and so it evolved into a writing style in the genres of magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal. Yes, I know, the who business might be an early sign of dementia.

This is clip art and not a drawing of anybody I knew. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

All this comes to mind because I’m working on a short story about a man who’s put in a rest home because his kids convince a judge he’s too eccentric to be left alone in his home where he’ll probably spend all the money they want to inherit on frivolous stuff. Not that I think my family would do that. But if they did, I’m sure they’d tell the judge that I think I was raised by alligators or that I snuck a hooker into the church basement.

Writers not only have to worry that their search history on their computer might one day be snagged by the FBI in an attempt to prove they did some hideous thing when, in fact, they were doing research for a book, but they (the writers) also have to worry about being put in a home when people figure out that the stories and novels they publish sound oddly similar to the lies they told their parents when they were kids.

My imagination has always ruled my thinking. It has taken precedence over logic and so-called verifiable facts. I justify my lies by pointing out that quantum mechanics tells us that what can happen, does happen. With that in mind, it’s impossible to tell a lie. Plus, if I appeared to be telling a lie–in “real life” or a memoir–I was simply working on the rough draft for a short story, novel, or alibi.

I suspect that most of my life actually happened. But as I grow older, I’m not sure how or where it happened. Papa Gator seems so real

Malcolm

 

 

 

Amazon Giveaway Ends in Three Days

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I’m running a giveaway on Amazon for my three-novels-in-one Kindle book called Florida Folk Magic Stories. The e-book edition includes Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena.

Click on the graphic to enter.

The giveaway, which has three Kindle copies available, ends on October 30th.

For reasons I don’t understand, Amazon has made their giveaways less user-friendly. First, they got rid of the sweepstakes option which awarded all the prizes at the end of the giveaway (which the author controlled). Next, they hard-coded the lucky number to something way too high for small-press authors. The author used to be able to control this, e.g., saying that every 10th entrant or every 20th entrant won a copy. Now, Amazon has set that lucky number at 400. That’s sad because the giveaway will probably expire before I can award all the available copies.

But, as they say, if you don’t enter, you can’t win. And, it costs nothing to enter.

Oh, and if you’re a GoodReads member, I’m hosting a giveaway there for one paperback copy of Lena. It will start at 12:00am PT on Monday, October 29 and finish at 11:59pm PT on Saturday, November 10.

–Malcolm

Review: ‘Plain Truth’ by Jodi Picoult

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Plain TruthPlain Truth by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed the book’s themes, especially the placement of a big city lawyer into an Amish household to supervise the bail agreement of a teenage girl charged with murdering her own baby, the ending did not wash with me.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The book begins with Katie, who has hidden her pregnancy from her family and everyone else, giving birth in the middle of the night in the dairy barn on the farm where she lives. After giving birth, she falls asleep. When she wakes up, the baby is gone. She says “thank you,” as though God turned the events in the barn into a dream by whisking the baby away.

When the baby is found hidden beneath some hay, the paramedics are called, and soon after them the police. Katie denies that she was pregnant, but is tripped up by the fact that she is hemorrhaging badly and is rushed to the hospital where it’s discovered that her condition is one that can occur after giving birth.

She is a likely suspect because she hid the pregnancy, either because she never believed it to be real and/or because having a baby out of wedlock is a much more serious religious issue within the Amish community than elsewhere.

Ellie, the attorney manages to arrange bail, but the stipulation is that Katie must be supervised. So Ellie moves into the family farm where she learns what an Amish household is all about. The family is wary, of course, but friendships develop, especially when Ellie pitches in with cooking, cleaning, gardening, and other chores.

It was noted in the comments after the book’s conclusion that no Amish person is likely to read the book, much less use the Internet to post a review. However, the family’s farm life appears to be to have been realistically covered by the author. So, too, the conversations with Katie as both the lawyer and a psychiatrist talk to her in the weeks prior to the trial about the pregnancy and the fact that she has no memory of what happened in the barn.

As sketchy memories begin to appear, her attorney wants to use an insanity defense and argue that Katie was in a dissociative state, the supposition being that she had completely blocked out any memory of what happened after the baby was born. Katie refuses. Needless to say, this presents substantial problems for defending her at the trial.

The outcome of the trial seems a bit unrealistic but within the reality of the book, it’s believable enough to be satisfying to readers. What does not wash with me is that after the trial is over, in fact, while Ellie is packing her suitcase to leave Katie’s home, Katies’s mother comes into the room and shows Ellie the shears used to cut the baby’s cord. The ending is foreshadowed by the slick use of the word “she” at the beginning of the novel rather than a character’s name as the baby’s cord is cut and then tied off with twine in the barn. We learn that Katie’s mother Sarah cut the cord and hid the baby and the shears.

She has reasons for doing it, tied in part of undergoing miscarriages herself and losing another daughter in an ice skating accident. What seems out of character is that any mother, especially an Amish mother, would remain silent and allow her daughter to go through the stress and agony of a murder charge and the emotional trial. Of course, had Sarah confessed at the outset, we would either have no story to tell–or, perhaps a very different story with less drama to it.

I have given the book three stars even though I feel the ending is a disaster for the plot’s resolution and for readers because up until Sarah comes into the room and tells Ellie what happened, the story is compelling, the characters are well developed, and the writing is sound.

–Malcolm

The Kindle edition of my novel “Lena” is on sale on Amazon for 99 cents throughout the weekend.

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Review: ‘Hope in the Shadows of War’ by Thomas Paul Reilly

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When injured Vietnam War veteran Timothy O’Rourke returns home in 1973, an open wound accompanies him. Today, we might call it PTSD or survivor’s guilt. When his helicopter was shot down and then attacked by the Viet Cong on the ground, he was able to save one of the men with him–but not both. The prospective roles of fate, destiny, fairness, and second-guessing oneself plague him as surely as a virus

Vietnam War veteran Thomas Paul Reilly saw the war for himself and subsequently applied that knowledge and his degrees in psychology as an author (Value-Added Selling) and public speaker focusing on the importance of hope, attitude, and value. He effectively uses this background to create a realistic, yet troubled protagonist in this novel which will be released on Veterans Day.

In the chronicles of war and returning veterans, Timothy’s issues aren’t unique, but in an era where veterans’ issues were not well understood, he believes he is alone in trying to heal his psychological wounds. He’s attending college, works multiple jobs, drives a falling-apart old car, has a steady girlfriend named Cheryl, and remains one step ahead of bankruptcy. Friends and family either can’t or won’t help him when he’s confronted with unexpected expenses such as replacing the ancient furnace in his mother’s house where he is staying. Cheryl has money to lend, but he refuses to accept it.

Co-workers at a Christmas tree lot where he’s working to earn extra money tell him that college and dreams aren’t for “guys like us” and that he needs to quit college and get a real job. In almost every area of his life, he is without hope. Among other things, he’s driving away Cheryl, who unconditionally loves him, by constantly telling her he’s not good enough for her.

Reilly has created a character who epitomizes veterans who have reason to believe fate and their country are conspiring against them. Broke and in ill health (emotional or physical), they end up living on the streets as one of society’s festering wounds that seems impossible to heal. A co-worker, Hoffen, at the Christmas tree lot casually talks to Tim about hope, perseverance, and attitude. The man speaks like a sage down from the mountaintop, but will his advice be enough to convince Tim that the open wound he brought home from Vietnam will never heal until he lets it heal?

If Tim were in therapy, his analyst might ask him if he wants the wound to heal. His memory of the helicopter crash–which is well written and rings true–replays over and over as though he either wanted to be rescued from the wounds it caused or return to the scene and die along with the buddy he couldn’t save. Tim is a character who is easy to admire for his dilligent attempt to save his dream against great odds. He is less easy to like because his overly hopeless attitude, as demonstrated in his thoughts and his conversations with Cheryl and others, comes close to whining, justified though it may be.

The book would be stronger if the plot focussed on the major highs and lows of the story and left out the step-by-step “transcripts” of minor–or recurring–thoughts and actions. The inspiring ending would be stronger if readers felt that, other than his stubbornness, Tim had played a more active role in making it happen.

Reading Hope in the Shadows of War should be a cathartic experience for struggling veterans and those who want to understand veterans’ issues and motivations. This is the story’s strength. So is the message of hope from Hoffen and others. Readers will probably take that message with them after they finish the novel.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘The Store’ by Patterson and DiLallo

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The StoreThe Store by James Patterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story idea is compelling and, what with people talking about privacy issues in an Internet world these days, the plot is also timely. Others here have already said they didn’t care for the writing. Definitely, not anywhere near the best of James Patterson branded novels.

The glaring trouble with the book is the ending. It’s a trick. The ending is based on the fact that certain things earlier in the novel aren’t what they seemed to be. The trouble is, when the ending occurs, the main character turns out to have known the whole time that those things weren’t what they seemed to be. The flaw here is that we are inside the main character’s head throughout the book and know what he’s thinking. There is no way a real person wouldn’t have thought about the on-going trickery at some point. The ending is only a surprise because the authors don’t allow the main character to think about something that he couldn’t help but think about. This is a very large point-of-view error.

In the Amazon/GoodReads review above, I don’t include a spoiler about what happened. In fairness to those who might enjoy this novel in spite of the trick, I’ll leave out the spoilers here as well.

Most publishers’ editors would have told the authors to fix the ending. Maybe they can’t say that to Patterson. However, it’s very jarring and unfair to the reader to conceal the main character’s thoughts about important matters from the readers unless the character is established as unreliable, suffering from amnesia, or hypnotized. None of these options were present in The Store.

The main character Jacob Brandeis participates throughout the story in a planned subterfuge but never once thinks about the fact that he–and others–are role playing. No real person would be capable of doing this. Outside of experimental fiction, no fictional character could help but think about what he’s doing while he’s doing it. With proper finesse and foreshadowing, an author might get around the problem of concealing the third person point-of-view character’s thoughts from the readers.

That was not done here, so we ended up feeling cheated–because we were.

Malcolm

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