Waiting for the reviews to come in

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 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Florida Folk Magic Trilogy

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

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

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)

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

This and that, including a cover reveal

  1. When out-of-town people threaten to stop by for a visit, we clean up the house. I just spent an hour cleaning the hall bathroom. Now, it smells like Clorox, Formula 409, Windex, and Lysol. If all that doesn’t give out an inviting aura of cleanliness, I don’t know what does.
  2.  One of the guests, and I won’t mention her name, drinks some kind of fru-fru white wine that can only be purchased in this area at Publix. Frankly, I think the stuff tastes like Kool-aid. But, I drove a hundred miles to the Publix to make sure we have the stuff in stock.
  3. My publisher and I are waiting for the printer’s proof copy of the paperback for Lena so we can figure out when the release date will be. Lena is the third novel in the Florida Folk Magic Series. The artist who did the covers for the first two books wasn’t available for this one. So, we’re quite pleased that our new artist was able to capture the look and feel of the series.
  4. We have fun watching the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are” that involves well-known people tracking down their ancestors. The TV show plus their fame gets these people access to archivists and historians around the world, and that makes us a bit jealous. What’s amusing is that the genealogist always starts the person out with a search on Ancestry.com, something the person seemingly could have done at home before they came on the show. That part ain’t that difficult.
  5. My last post on this blog taught me one thing. Nobody wants to read about James Joyce, much less Finnegans Wake. Okay, I guess I won’t be talking about that any more. <g>
  6. Anyone else here reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series about a wizard who runs a big city detective agency? In a way, once you’ve read one, you’ve read all of them. Nonetheless, they’re addictive: thrills, chills, gore, and humor.
  7. I look forward to the day when real-life politics stops sounding like satire. Jock Stewart, my alter-ego who satirizes politics from time to time on this blog has nothing to write about because “he” can’t come up with anything more outlandish than what the two major parties are saying and doing.

On that note, I think I’ll go back to cleaning up the house.

Malcolm

Thanks for trying out the free copies

I appreciate everyone who grabbed up a free copy of my Kindle short story “Waking Plain.” There used to be a TV bit called “Fractured Fairy Tales;” I suspect I got brainwashed by that so that I take sweet old stories and turn them upside down.

Meanwhile, my soon-to-be released novel Lena has made it past the editor. One always worries about hearing something like, “Malcolm, you know that guy who dies on page 23? How did he come back to life on page 97?” Oops.

Lena is the third and final book (you can quote me on that) in the Florida Folk Magic Series published by Thomas-Jacob. With luck, we’ll be able to show you the cover soon and then announce a release date.

Meanwhile, we have another late afternoon thunderstorm roaring through northwest Georgia. This is getting tedious because the low barometric pressure impacts both our (my wife and I) sinus conditions while all that water makes the grass grow faster than we can keep it mowed.

Fortunately, I have beef stew to warm up in the Dutch oven for supper, so no cooking required tonight. And, the cats have been fed; that means they’ve stopped hovering around my desk and bothering me.

My brother and his wife and grandson will be stopping here briefly next week. Oh hell, that means we have to clean up the house. We’ll have fun while they’re here, though.

Malcolm

Dear Flora

Watching down on creation from the great sanctified church in the sky, I’m sure you are spry enough again to sing and dance in a ring shout circle, and re-conjure your memories of a life well lived.

Partial view of the cover art work for “Lena.”

As you watch us muddle through our days, perhaps you notice this old writer whom you once knew as that white boy around the corner who stopped by daily to see his best friend in the house where you worked as a maid in Tallahassee. Because my friend’s parents were frequently absent due to work, volunteer, and church schedules, you were the stern ruler of that household from dawn to dark.

In those days, I saw you as the heart and soul of that home even though our flawed traditions wouldn’t allow you to walk in through the front door. I loved and respected (and sometimes) feared you then, but I was not allowed to tell you so. After my mother and my grandmother, you were the best cook on the planet, but Southern booking wasn’t the best of what I learned from you.

I learned about faith and forbearance and streetwise savviness in a dangerous world along with the value of humor and tall tales as antidotes to the slights and terrors of the day. In those days, perhaps you saw me as part of the fair number of kids who hung out around that house and the woods behind it and had no way of knowing whether I’d end up in reform school or the priesthood. Well, I guess you knew I wasn’t destined to become a priest!

Like the children who lived in that house, Flora, I went off to college and then into the Navy and then into a life a thousand miles away. I’m sorry I lost track of you then. I wish I had hugged you goodbye before I went off into the world.

Now, as Lena, the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series is nearing its release date, I want you to know that the book’s acknowledgements tell my readers you are my inspiration for Eulalie, the conjure woman who is the heart and soul of the series. Thank you for everything you taught me and my apologies for everything I have forgotten.

with love,

Malcolm