Tag Archives: Florida Folk Magic Series

Rainy days and/or Mondays

Standard

Very heavy rain all day today, starting our week off with a flash flood watch. This “lake” in the pasture below the house is normally a narrow creek. Now it’s probably up over the road. I already got wet doing grocery shopping this morning, so I’m not going to walk down there and see what the road looks like.

Lena

Thank you to the 800+ entrants in my GoodReads giveaway for the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series. I wish I could afford to send all of you a copy. Alas, only one copy is available and it will go out in tomorrow morning’s mail to the winner who lives in Kansas.

Cancer Scare #2

Those of you who’ve read this blog for a while, know that I had successful surgery for kidney cancer several years ago. The cancer was caught by a fluke, an ultrasound taken when I went into the hospital or an appendectomy. It was caught early enough for the surgery to work. The scary thing about kidney cancer is that there are no symptoms until it’s too late to do anything about it. My surgeron told me that the inflamed appendix was the bellyache that saved my life.

Several weeks ago, one of the seemingly endless tests I keep having suggested that I might have cancer again–or, an inflammation. I was optimistic–with random periods of worry and depression–because this cancer has early symptoms. Fortunately, the antibiotic is working and the test numbers are looking better. I’m one of these people who doesn’t get along with antibiotics, but they beat the alternative.

Upcoming Ghost Story Collection

In finished another story for my upcoming collection of ghost stories–coming soon from Thomas-Jacob Publishing. This one takes place in an old opera house that was about twenty miles away from where I grew up in the Florida Panhandle. I drove by it many times and, since it was closed down, always thought it was an abandoned factory. The people in the state’s ghost hunter business claimed the old theater was haunted.

Fortunately, it was saved from the wrecking ball by a string of preservation grants and is now being used to stage regional theater productions. What a perfect place for a story on a dark and stormy night. The story helped distract me from Cancer Scare #2. My wife’s going to proofread the story before I send the collection off to the publisher. There are one or two books in the queue ahead of this one, so I have no idea when it will be released. (I’ll let you know.)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter and her family, including my two granddaughters next week. We’re all doing a little sightseeing as well. The last time we went to their house, we were all snowed in and did well to walk as far as the sledding hill. We’re going earlier in the winter months this time!

Malcolm

 

 

Advertisements

Midweek Musings, (AKA random stuff)

Standard
  • My latest book Florida Folk Magic Stories is now part of an Amazon giveaway. Go here for a chance to win.
  • Sometimes I think the so-called, all-important “writer’s platform” looks more like a gallows.
  • Right now, I can’t tell whether my discomfort from an inflammation is coming from the disease or the antibiotic.
  • I’m discouraged when long-time online friends leave Facebook because, as they see it, the site has become toxic. I admit that I try to avoid most political discussions there because I’m more of a moderate than a hardcore Democrat or Republican and feel like I’m getting beaten up by both sides. One can avoid that by not talking politics.
  • Dang, I accidentally bought a new copy of a James Patterson book that I’d already read. Unfortunately, it’s one of his weaker novels. It has a trick ending and there is no excuse for it. It’s called The Store. Forget about it.
  • I keep wondering if the female contestants chosen to be on “Survivor” are those with the most cleavage and the skimpiest bathing suits. So much for women being considered equal when they dress like that.
  • When I look at a lot of news sources, I see many things going on that aren’t covered by either CNN or FOX. Those two networks seem obsessed with running talking heads show of “experts” who are really liberal or really conservative. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe the opinion shows on both networks are gospel.
  • Minnesota is suing “big pharma” for an exorbitant increase in the cost of insulin. It’s sort of like buying a pair of pliers one year for $12.00 and then a few years down the road seeing the price jump to $120.00. There’s no excuse for that kind of price gouging.
  • Writers aren’t immune to the debates going on in the country. Some writers have found a way to speak out in those debates through their poetry, novels, and essays. Not all of us can do that. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means that the kind of writing we do doesn’t lend itself to work focused on the latest issues. We always hope what we write will make a difference, even if that difference is indirect.

Malcolm

Waiting for the reviews to come in

Standard

In old movies about playwrights and stars, the cast and director and backers of a Broadway play had a cast party on opening night, after which they ended up at a bar or an all-night restaurant and waited for the morning papers to hit the streets with major reviews.  Those reviews could make or break the play. With fewer reviewers and newspapers these days, I don’t know if waiting for the reviews to come in is still a part of the opening night drama.

When a play goes on the road before its opening night in a major city, it often gets revised a lot before it’s final version appears, all this is based on audience reactions and the reviews in small-town papers.

Authors also wait for the reviews to come in. Major authors published by large presses know a lot about how their books are fairing–in terms of reviews–long before publication day. The publisher usually sends books out to major reviewers four to six months before they are published. In part, this is because the publications require it; and, in part, this allows blurbs from favorable reviews to appear on the book cover and sometimes on the first several pages.

Small press authors usually don’t have enough clout or name recognition to approach review sites like the New York Times, Book List, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus reviews and others. Also, we work on shorter time-frames, so the books aren’t going to be ready for reviews six months before they’re published. Truth be told, the books won’t even be completed so far in advance.

So, our version of the traditional all-night restaurant wait is checking Amazon for reader reviews. Sometimes, small-presses have relationships with blogging sites and smaller media outlets, but these reviews almost always appear weeks after a book is released.

The first book site review for Lena appeared today at Big Al’s Books and Pals. It’s a nice site with a number of reviewers and an interest in multiple genres. Their reviewer gave Lena five stars, saying (in part), “I have been looking forward to this book. At the end of Eulalie and Washerwoman Eulalie was leaving to fetch Willie back home. They’ve had a long-standing relationship and Eulalie was ready to take it to the next level. Being a romantic at heart I was ready for this relationship to move forward. So, what does Mr. Campbell do? He puts Eulalie in peril! Which in turn kept me reading late into the night.” (Click on the graphic to read the review.)

Whew. One hopes readers will like a new book, but I’m a bit superstitious about a series because I worry that those who liked earlier books might think the author lost his focus with the new book. So, I’m relieved that a review site I trust liked the book. One never knows what to expect. Readers liked the first book in the series, Conjure Woman’s Cat, and it ended up with 22 reader reviews on Amazon. People told me that the second book, Eulalie and Washerwoman was even better, but it only has seven reviews on Amazon. So, a writer never knows what to expect.

We do appreciate those reader reviews. The existence of those reviews play in to how Amazon displays our books. They also determine whether other sites will consider our books for review. Some sites won’t consider reviewing a book if it has fewer than ten Amazon reviews. So, those reviews matter to an author just as much as they matter to the director and cast of a Broadway play on opening night.

There’s a lot of waiting and uncertainty in the writing biz, so much so that betting on a novel is probably riskier than betting on a horse. Years ago, I bet on enough horses to know how things worked. I decided I didn’t make enough money to do that even though standing next to the rail near the finish line certainly was a rush. Books are a similar gamble.

Fortunately, writing a story is a rush even before we start waiting for the reviews to come in.

Malcolm 

 

 

 

 

The Florida Folk Magic Trilogy

Standard

When Lena, the third book in my 1950s-era Florida Folk Magic trilogy was released several weeks ago by Thomas-Jacob Publishing, I said, “Okay guys, the series is a trilogy, so y’all quit pestering me about another book.”

The series addresses the racism of the Black/White culture in the Florida Panhandle at a time when the state had a lot more Klan activity, lynchings, and firebombings than most people outside the area knew about. Snowbirds came down from the northern states and eastern Canadian provinces in droves for the sunshine state’s beaches and other attractions in the peninsula. For the most part, they didn’t know that the peninsula had its nasty problems and so did the panhandle.

I grew up in this culture and was very much aware of the KKK because they visited my minister’s house, the houses of my friends, and put on rallies and parades. I had liberal parents and went to a relatively liberal church, the first white church in Tallahassee that invited African Americans to its worship services. In those days, whites poked fun at hoodoo–I guess they still do–but I had a good teacher named Flora who worked as a maid at a friend’s house around the corner. She introduced me to great food, the ways and means of the other side of our two cultures thrown together, and many truths.

The result is my trilogy of three novels. In Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie–who is modeled after Flora–seeks justice for an assaulted Black girl when the police take no action. In Eulalie and Washerwoman, Eulalie battles against an evil conjure man who’s in league with the police and the town’s movers and shakers. In Lena, Eulalie goes missing and is presumed dead, leaving her family and her cat Lena in a state of confusion as the KKK threatens the town.

Lena is available in paperback and e-book from multiple online sites.  Eulalie and Washerwoman and Conjure Woman’s Cat are also available as audiobooks via Audible and Amazon. All three books can be ordered by bookstores from their Ingram catalogs under traditional store purchasing options.

The audiobook edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat received the prestigious Red Earphones Award from AudioFile magazine. Click on the earphones graphic to see the review. Click here to see AudioFile’s review of Eulalie and Washerwoman.

I hope you enjoy the series!

Malcolm

Florida in Pictures – Those bulkhead flatcars

Standard

The covers of all three books in my Florida Folk Magic Series feature a railroad crossing usually with bulkhead flatcars on it. First, the Apalachicola Northern Railway operated in the Florida Panhandle county where my stories are set. It still exists today as a shortline called AN Railway, operating between Chattachochee, Florida and Port St. Joe, Florida on the gulf coast. In the 1950s, as now, the line carried wood products, frequently in bulkhead flatcars.

The second reason for the cover picture refers to the age-old belief–which became part of hoodoo–that crossroads and crossings were dangerous places over and above the possibility for wrecks. Either bandits were there or spirits were there. So, great care had to be taken.

The car on the right is a bulkhead flat. – Florida Memory Photograph

Some of my railroad references in the books come from the fact that I was a volunteer at a Georgia railway museum that had operating trains as well as many historic examples of older operating equipment, including a bulkhead flat. As you can see from the photo, the bulkheads at each end of the flatcar helped contain the logs or other materials being hauled. In a part of the country where lumber and other wood products were important, these cars were a natural to mention in the books.

–Malcolm

 

Memories in the Wine: Scuppernong Grapes

Standard

Possibly the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is the 400-year-old scuppernong “Mother Vine” growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. – Wikipedia

Yesterday, I learned in a Facebook conversation that both my publisher and I grew up with a love for Muscadine grapes. In my case, it was Scuppernongs, a distinctive variety of Muscadines. I grew up in the Florida Panhandle where many of my junior high and high school friends’ parents had small farms or large rural backyards. Every fall, we ate Scuppernongs right off the vines, usually on ancient, falling-down trellises.  While Muscadines are generally purplish red, Scuppernongs are greenish bronze.

Scuppernongs – Wikipedia photo

The grapes make great jams and jellies–and wine. (Here is one of the many online recipes for Scuppernong jam.) The old-timers had many regional names for Scuppernongs, including “sculpins” Oddly, I was the only one in my family who liked these grapes; my brothers and parents found them too tart and didn’t like chewing on them and having to spit out the skins after all the juice was gone–sort of like chewing on unpeeled kumquats. (I was also the only one in the family who loved boiled peanuts and chewing on the sugar cane sticks that used to be sold in those days by street vendors.)

I normally drink only non-sweet red wines, but while working on my recently released novel Lena, I chilled several bottles of Scuppernong wine to bring back childhood memories. I actually sipped the wine while working on the book because the characters were drinking, as I called it, homemade sculpin wine. It was nostalgic writing a story about a farm with sculpin grapes while drinking a glass of wine made from those wonderful native grapes

Duplin Winery photo

As for that mother vine, I’d love to taste the wine still being made from this ancient vine in North Carolina. As Duplin Winery describes its MotherVine Wine, “This sweet white wine is made from the Scuppernong grapes of the Mother Vine. The Mother Vine is the oldest Vine in the world, and is still producing World Class Wine!” The label shows a photograph of the vine itself which looks quite a bit different than the vines I saw in Leon County, Florida.

Writing the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic series has brought back a lot of childhood memories. First, the people, many of whom still call me “shug (for sugar), as in “Shug, how’s it going?” Second, the wiregrass and longleaf pine ecosystems and the nearby blackwater rivers and Gulf of Mexico coastline. Third, so many of the foods, from rosin-baked potatoes, mayhaw jelly, hush puppies, fry bread, and catfish.

That Scuppernong wine, though, was pure liquid memory, rather like the now-legal moonshine you can find in most liquor stores. (There’s a Mason jar of shine in my pantry.) Now that the folk magic series is complete, I feel like I’ve just stood up and stretched after reclining on a psychoanalyst’s couch, for the writing was indeed a trip back in time where I found many outrageous things I shouldn’t have kept silent about for so many years, and many joyful childhood moments that made me feel as ancient as that mother vine.

Malcolm

Sunday potpourri (not to be confused with SPAM)

Standard

I’m not quite sure how to spend my time this weekend because it’s usually raining. But this weekend it isn’t, even though rain was predicted.  I blame both weather.com and accuweather.com for my feelings of chaos.

  1. According to USA Today, J. J. Rowling will release her fourth Cormoran Strike mystery this fall. She told USA Today she could easily write ten more. I don’t understand writers who have that many story ideas backed up inside their heads. But, I’m happy for her, I promise. I like the series for the same reason I liked the available detective stories that were popular when I was growing up. That is, they were Agatha Christie-style books in which (usually) one guy was trying to solve a crime rather than some high-tech firm with all kinds of illegal hacking software.
  2. Yesterday, the LeafFilter people were out here installing coverings on our gutters. They took pictures of the gutters before they cleaned them out. What a mess. We had flip screens at the old house, but stuff got under them and the wind blew them up and warped them in all kinds of ways to they wouldn’t cover the gutters properly anymore. I hope this system works. It didn’t help my mood on Saturday to have all the noise, but then I was in a bad mood already when Serena Williams lost her match in the Wimbledon final. So now, we’re protected against leaves.
  3. My hearing is crap and even with my Audibel hearing aids, I have a lot of trouble hearing human speech and need to use the closed captioning when I watch TV. So now I’m looking for something better. If you have hearing aids, are you happy with them? Can you hear your spouse asking you to take out the garbage or extinguish the stove-top grease fire? If so, tell me your stories. I looked at the online reviews and found that one site said brand XYZ was the best and then saw it had a lot of bad customer reviews. As always, I wonder if can I trust those, or is it simply that the people who are ticked off are the only ones who post anything?
  4. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing faux pas news stories and rants about Trump not bowing to the Queen of England tick me off. They are both heads of state and neither one should bow to the other. Yes, I know, the Queen is an old lady with 100000 years of tradition behind her, but we fought a war about bowing to the English monarch and I think we won it and no longer owe that monarch our allegiance. A friendly smile ought to be enough. (End of rant.)
  5. I’m starting to wish my publisher and I had scheduled the release date for Lena a little sooner than August 1. We had some trouble with the printing of the cover, and decided not to rush the release for fear something else would go wrong. (In this business, one has to assume that something will always go wrong.) However, now that the cover is squared away, I’m feeling a bit at loose ends waiting for the release date.
  6. I would like to start writing more “Jock Stewart” satire, but the real news is so crazy it’s hard to write anything outlandish. That is, reality is already enough of a satire about the left vs. right situation, so it’s hard to make up something worse.

–Malcolm