Sometimes the research makes the novels almost too hard to write

Florida was a violent place of unimaginable racial turmoil during the early-to-mid 1900s, especially in the peninsula, and while I’ve researched this subject numerous times to check on facts for my Florida Folk Magic Series, reviewing all that again now for the novel in progress is making the novel almost too hard to write.

Some incidents are so extreme, that I cannot fathom a person (or mob) doing such things to another person. I need to take a deep breath and step away from this because the details make me sick. While I would never put the worst of them into my novels, I cannot “un-see” them, so to speak.

The worst incidents look like what would happen if the scum behind them read through the “medical” experiments conducted on living people by Nazi SS officer Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death.” I refuse to put such details into my work. And, I don’t have to do it because I’m not writing directly about the incident, but about people’s response to such incidents.

Yet, when writing about people fighting the KKK in Florida in the 1950s, it’s difficult to stay away from including characters discussing atrocities that were heavily covered by the press rather like characters in current novels mentioning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or, say, the highly publicized shooting that takes place in the town where a novel is set. Such references add depth to the novel, I think, by anchoring it in a real-time and a real place, and by showing what the characters think about the events.

Moore family home in Mims.

For example, the current novel-in-progress is set in 1955. One of the characters is an FBI agent who has just returned from a follow-up investigation into the assassination of civil rights activist Harry T. Moore in Mims, Florida. Moore’s house was blown up with dynamite on Christmas day in 1951. He and his wife were killed, and this we might say was the first assassination of an active civil rights leader. Florida would conduct multiple investigations for over fifty years. It appears that the perpetrators died of natural causes (and one suicide) before the initial FBI investigation ended.

I have to mention Moore in my novel. The problem, during the research phase, is that the bombing of Moore’s house is tangled up with other central Florida racial crimes. So, one sees a lot that one doesn’t want to see. I’m happy that most of it isn’t relevant to the plot of the novel. Yet, I still need to take that deep breath and maybe a Xanax and/or a glass of Scotch. You can learn more about Moore and his legacy here.

Those of us who research the past ultimately run into the very things we don’t want to see. That’s when we have to become editors and weed out the worst of the worst when it’s not on point to the story we are telling. Those who want to know more can follow our references to the greater truths.

The humanity within us calls upon us to do better. A writer can tell a story in which the protagonist triumphs over evil, or at least makes things better. That’s harder to do in “real life.” But we have to try, don’t we?

Malcolm

Review: ‘Camino Winds’ by John Grisham

Camino Winds brings back many of the characters from Camino Island, a novel the New York Times aptly decribed as “a delightfully lighthearted caper.” Camino Winds begins with wind, the monster hurricane Leo that takes aim at the Florida Island with deadly intentions and mind-numbing accuracy.  In her blurb, author Delia Owens (Where the Crawdads Sing) calls this second book in the series a “wild but smart caper.”

The novel is easy to read but the most exciting part of the caper is provided by the hurricane, and this is where we find the book’s most effective writing. A man is killed during the story, purportedly by falling tree limbs, but bookstore owner Bruce Cable of Bay Books doesn’t think so. The local police don’t seem interested, so the caper aspect of the novel begins when Bruce and his friends start trying to find out what really happened.

They begin by disturbing the crime scene, borrowing the dead man’s car, and appropriating the food and liquor in his kitchen that will dertainly go bad if left for any forensic techs who might one day show up. The dead man, an author named Nelson Kerr–among those who hung out at Bay Books–won’t miss the food and probably wouldn’t begrudge the amateur sleuths a great meal and all the high-priced drink they can handle, which turns out not to be a lot.

Kerr as apparently writing a novel about something that somebody didn’t like so, probably–the amateur sleuths speculate–the killer was mixed up in the pièce de ré·sis·tance crime Kerr plans to thinly diguise as fiction in his new thriller. If so, they no doubt wanted to stop him before (a) he finished the book, or (b) the book get to a publisher if he did finish it.

Bruce, et. al. have some good ideas, the kind that just might get them killed. If they (the sleuths) were black ops types, they dould take the next step and go after the bad guys with enough gear that woud make Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler exited. But they aren’t, so they can’t, and they don’t. For the reader, this means a lot of time is spent listening to the characters’ pondering which, fortunately, is punctuated with a few laughs, scares, and dicoveries along the way.

They mean well. They’re likeable. And they keep pushing on whoever they can influence until heavy hitters become involved and the crime is solved. Until then, nothing much happens. When the pros show up, a considerable amount of time is spent describing how the bad guys scammed the government out of a lot of money while hurting everyday people. Yes, we suspect this kind of thing is true. But how they (the bad guys) do what they do takes the focus of the story simultaneously closer to its climax and farther away from the main characters.

This is an unsatisfying plot solution. The characters who begin the caper really need to end the caper. If you read every Grisham novel, you’ll nonetheless have fun reading this one. If you don’t, you won’t.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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‘Fate’s Arrows’ – New – Audiobook Edition

Thomas-Jacob Publishing has released the audiobook edition of Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel Fate’s Arrows, narrated by Daniela Acitelli. Of course, I’m biased, but I’ll say this anyway: the narration is wonderful and fits the story perfectly.

Description

In 1954, the small Florida Panhandle town of Torreya had more Klansmen per acre than fire ants. Sparrow, a bag lady; Pollyanna, an auditor; and Jack, the owner of Slade’s Diner, step on fire ants and Klansmen whenever they can while an unknown archer fires fate-changing arrows at the Klan’s leadership. They are not who they appear to be, and while they take risks, they must be discrete lest they end up in the Klan’s gunsights.

When Julia and Eldon, a married couple from Harlem, New York, run afoul of the Klan because of Eldon’s pro-union stance at the sawmill, they find themselves down at the ancient hanging tree where two policemen, hiding their identity beneath white robes and hoods, are the ones holding the noose.

Acitelli

Meanwhile, Sparrow seems to have disappeared. When the ne’er-do-well Shelton brothers beat up the Klavern’s exalted cyclops because they think he harmed Sparrow, they, too, find themselves the focus of a KKK manhunt.

Bolstered by support from a black cat and an older-than-dirt conjure woman, Pollyanna persists in her fight against the Klan, determined to restore law and order to a town overwhelmed by corruption. In time, her targets will learn that Pollyanna is no Pollyanna.

–Malcolm

Fate’s Arrows is also available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions.

Review: ‘The Guardians’ by John Grisham

Innocence Projects track down individuals who appear to have been wrongly convicted, analyze their cases, and seek to have them exonerated by proving that the original trials were flawed, witnesses lied, evidence was improperly handled, or possibly that everything beginning with the arrest was a total and expedient fabrication.

John Grisham turns in another winning and compelling novel with The Guardians, about a nonprofit innocence project that runs on a shoestring with dedicated personnel and a thorough and tenacious approach to the law that gets results.

Lawyer and priest Cullen Post believes Quincy Miller’s 22 years in prison for a murder he did not commit represent not only a miscarriage of justice but brought additional power and financial gain to a small-town Florida sheriff and the criminals he sheltered, aided, and abetted. Proving Quincy Miller’s innocence is a tall order, perhaps impossible, especially when those who framed him want him to quietly rot in prison dead or alive.

The book is an exciting mix of courtroom work and investigative work. The courtroom work can be slow. The investigative work is slower because after 22 years those two lied at the original trial have scattered on the winds and don’t want to be found, much less recant. The more successful The Guardians is in exposing flaws in the original arrest and trial, the more likely thugs hear about it can come out of the woodwork–and they don’t place nicely.

The book reads well, keeps the excitement and tension at a high level, and exposes readers to the concept of innocence work and how it is done. The reader becomes aware early on that neither Cullen Post nor Quincy Miller has any guarantees that they’ll make it out of this novel alive.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” the fourth in a series of novels set in a small Florida town in the 1950s when the KKK was active.

‘Mountain Song’ free Oct 15-17

My coming of age novel Mountain Song will be free on Kindle October 15-17, proving that good things can happen in 2020. 

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?

Vistors to Many Glacier Valley in Glacier National Park will recognize many of the settings, including the old hotel. Visitors to Florida’s Tate’s Hell Forest near Carrabelle on the Gulf Coast will recognize the ambiance of this spooky swamp.

Hope you enjoy the story

Malcolm

Local Color in Novels

Local color serves a variety of purposes in novels and short stories:

  • Paints a picture of the location and its history
  • Provides careers, hobbies, road trips for the characters
  • Resonates with readers who know the area
  • Helps move the plot forward
  • Adds depth to the story

Florida Panhandle

My four Florida Folk Magic novels are set in the state’s panhandle near the Apalachicola River. This was once a land of cotton that is far different from the cities and tourist attractions of the peninsula that tourists flock to every year. It’s dominated by pine forests, small towns, small farms, commercial and sports fishing, and a relatively low profile nationally.

St. Joe Paper Company

The St. Joe Paper Company in the 1950s when my novels are set, had a massive influence in the panhandle: paper mill, landholdings, a railroad called the Apalachicola Northern that carried wood products from the coastal mill to Quincy, Florida for transfer to mainline railroads. The paper company, part of a trust established by the du Pont family, still exists but focuses on commercial and residential real estate. The railroad, named the Apalachicola Northern, was referred to as the Port St. Joe Route. (It still exists as part of a conglomerate.)

In my novels, I call my fictional the town Torreya (after a rare Florida tree) and place it near the town of Telogia as shown on this AN railroad map:

I mention the railroad a lot, fudging its route to include my fictional town because it, and the local sawmill, are important to the local economy; inasmuch as “crossings” is a vital word in conjure, railroad crossings also provide ambiance and figure into a plot which includes bulkhead flat cars carrying wood products:

Unfortunately, most of the online pictures of this railroad are copyrighted, including its old Electro-Motive (General Motors) SW9 switch engines.

If you’re a railfan, you can learn more about the railroad here:

What’s the Major Attraction or Industry?

What draws people to the location you’re writing about. If I’d set the novels in current times, I might have mentioned Apalachicola’s commercial oyster industry and/or the fight between Florida and Georgia for rights to the Apalachicola River’s water. If I’d set my novels in Tallahassee, the state government and two state universities there add plot opportunities. Of course, almost anywhere you go in the state provides fishing, kayaking, swimming, and other river/gulf/ocean recreation.

I chose pine forests and railroads because they fit the realities of the times in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s. Needless to say, if you grow up or live in the area you’re writing about, you have an edge over authors from the far side of the country. You may not be a walking encyclopedia for the locale, but you know where to look.

Malcolm

Book four in the Florida Folk Magic Series, “Fate’s Arrows,” was released by Thomas-Jacob Publishing last month in paperback and e-book.

 

Hate in the Sunshine State

My novels are set in the 1950s when the traditional KKK in Florida was strong and active. Years later, hatred is still alive and just as sick as ever, though it’s been dispersed into a variety of groups.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida has 67 hate groups currently tracked by the Center. 

The Center notes that sixteen statewide groups are not shown on the map. Otherwise, you can place your cursor on the white circles on the map on the website to see the names of the groups.

We should be aware of these groups: otherwise, it’s hard to combat them. A word of caution, though. While some have websites, those sites are composed of the sickening kind of tripe (and pictures) one would expect of thugs, psychopaths, and other degenerates. Don’t go to these sites unless you have a strong stomach.

Florida has more hate groups than any other state except California with 88 groups. So, hate is not just a product of the South in spite of how our part of the country is often portrayed by others.

In A “superhighway of hate:” Extremism is flourishing in Florida from “Florida Phoenix,” Diane Rado writes, “From hate speech to hate groups to hate crimes, Florida faces a broad atmosphere of hatred that has been escalating for years, though residents and tourists may not have realized how much the extremist landscape has changed.”

Just why Florida has so many groups is unclear, but some suggest the Intenet has helped thread the hate around, allowing groups to become interlinked–among other things, groups that once operated out of a basement are easier to find via search engines today and those whom they attract help them do their work.

Groups of various stripes have been more vocal of late. The media gives them exposure. Peaceful and legitimate protests often give hate groups a foot in the door to gather on the same streets and give the protesters a black eye when the news shows buildings on fire and police cars turned over.

The times have become ripe for the radicalization of people who are easily led by news accounts of violence and social media information. Hatred is one virus no vaccine is able to defeat; no doubt it will still be around when COVID is long gone.

We have a lot of work to do to clean the scum out of this country.

Malcolm

 

‘Fate’s Arrows’ – Update

  • The Kindle edition of Fate’s Arrows will be 99₵ on October 4th from Amazon.
  • The novel is available on these sites: Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop, Scribd, IndieBound, Powell’s, Google Books, Apple, and as a B&N Nook book.
  • We are still waiting on the printer for the hardcover edition.
  • Bookstores can order the paperback via their Ingram Catalog.
  • Listed on the NewPages website’s new releases.
  • You can watch the trailer on the home page of my website.

Malcolm

Okay, Malcolm, what are you going to write next?

Yesterday, I announced the publication of Fate’s Arrows, the fourth novel in the Florida Folk Magic Series. Today, people are asking, “So, what are you going to write next?”

Actually, we have more to do with Fate’s Arrows. We’re still working on the hardcover edition, we’re contacting review sites, and we’re waiting for the printer to finish the edition that will be sold in bookstores.

Asking me what I’m going to do next is like asking a new mom what she’s going to do next 24 hours after she delivered a baby.

Or, it’s like those commercials where a major sport’s figure has just finished a big game. The announcer says, “Hey Bob, you just won the super bowl. What are you going to do now.” The answer was, “I’m going to Disneyland.”

My answer to that question right now, is “I don’t have a clue.” Even if I wanted to go to Disney World, I couldn’t because travel and venues are still restricted. My feet still hurt from our last trip several years ago.

I keep threatening my publisher with another sequel to The Sun Singer. I wrote the first version of that novel in 1980. It’s gone through multiple editions as has its sequel Sarabande. So much time has gone by, I’m not sure I can face returning to that hero’s journey and heroine’s journey world in Glacier National Park and pick up the story again. I’m not the same person I was when I wrote those books, or even the same person I was when I limped back to the car after our last trip to Disney World.

So maybe I’ll just sit here and wait for Viola Davis to call and say that JuVee Productions wants an option on Fate’s Arrows. Davis can play the conjure woman, Cynthia Erivo can play Julia, and Jennifer Lawrence can play Pollyanna. If you know Viola, send her a copy of all four books in the Florida Florida Folk Magic Series.

Meanwhile, I’m watching the grass grow, mowing the grass, and then watching it grow again.

Malcolm

“Fate’s Arrows” is published by Thomas-Jacob Publishing of Deltona, Florida.

 

 

 

Scenes from my childhood

The burning cross shown here in 1956 to protest singer and activist Paul Robeson is typical of Klan activity from my childhood years in the Florida Panhandle.

Florida Memory Photo

Paul Robeson had a great voice. We had a few of his recordings. But the KKK didn’t care about his voice or his records. They cared about his activism–as the sign says: “We protest Paul Robeson and all other communists.”

These are the memories of growing up that brought me to write the Florida Folk Magic Series of novels and to hate the Klan with a passion. It saddens me greatly to see Klan-like groups openly screaming out their hatred during these chaotic times.

Malcolm