My granddaughters are 11 and 6 years old, so I thought it would be cool to dedicate my new collection of stories (Widely Scattered Ghosts) to them so that when they are in their 50s they can take a copy to Antiques Road Show and learn that the book–at auction–is then worth $1000000000000.
They live in Maryland, so I’m going to mail the book. But I can’t address it to them because they love getting things in the mail, especially packages. But they’re way too young to read any of the stories. Even though none of the stories are the Stephen King variety, Freya and Beatrice will need to wait until they’re teenagers (I guess) before they get to see the book.
So, the mail is going to my daughter with instructions to hide the book and to remember where she hid it. My father was an author. I always thought it was neat to have copies of some of his books autographed for me. Maybe the girls will feel the same way even though I’m no James Patterson or John Grisham.
Four of the stories are about an inquisitive and highly intelligent teenager named Emily who talks to ghosts. She reminds me of my daughter (except for the talks-to-ghosts part). As a grandfather, I get to brag and say that I think my granddaughters will grow up to be smarter than Stephen Hawking.
That makes me wonder if they’ll correctly guess the endings to each of the stories before they get there.
Here’s the thing. About 100000 times a year, I read that old maps used to place the words HERE BE DRAGONS in areas that nobody knew anything about. The odd thing is, nobody has ever found an old map with those words on it.
It’s quite possible that I was a cartographer in a previous lifetime, though I’ll claim that I misspoke if I’m ever asked any questions about that by a Congressional committee.
Maps fascinate me. Always have. Maybe this character flaw began when I was growing up and got bored between stops on long family vacations. We always went by car. After a while, the landscape outside the windows got repetitive, so I’d turn my attention to the service station maps we carried and made a game out of predicting when we would arrive at various locations down the road. Now, our cell phones do all this for us. But then it was fun.
In those days, I could predict within a few minutes when we’d pass the cities limits sign of every town down the road. Now I spend time trying to figure such things out when my stories involve people traveling. If a character is walking, riding a horse, on a train, in a car, or flying, when will they arrive where they’re going? I find myself looking up lengths of stride, terrain, and all sorts of things so that a hike in my story takes the same amount of time as the hike would take in real life.
In one recent short story, a father and his daughter were driving from Tallahassee, Florida to St. Marks, Florida while listening to a Scott Joplin recording. I kid you not, I timed out the lengths of the songs with the mileage so I could say stuff like “as they passed through Woodville, such and such a song was playing.”
When I was working on my two Glacier Park novels, The Sun Singer and Sarabande, I had a hiking map on my desk. Since I had hiked most of the trails in the section of the park where my stories were set, I knew how long it took to get from one place to another if one walked at a steady pace. Along with the map, I had a trail guide. That reminded me what the landscape looked like at each fraction of a mile along the trail.
While many authors look at me like I’m crazy when I mention such things, I don’t think I’m the only author who does this. I read a lot of novels set in a lot of cities and many of them are very specific about what a character can see while walking down one named street or another.
I guess it comes down to wanting to orient my characters in the places where they are just as I have always liked feeling oriented in the places where I am. If you have a compass and a map, but don’t know where you are, you can take sitings of recognizable landmarks and find the answer. I’ve always done this. So now, I’ve passed that trait along to my characters and maybe a few readers. And, if I’m lucky, maybe a dragon or two.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released collection of short stories called “Widely Scattered Ghosts.” You won’t be surprised to hear that it includes a story named “Map Maker.”
Following up on yesterday’s post about authors posting material relating to their books, here’s a picture from Florida Memory of a KKK flyer that was similar to many I saw as a child. The Klan was always recruiting, holding rallies, and marching in parades.
Officially, the Klan purported to be a friendly organization. I doubt that anyone in Tallahassee and other Florida Panhandle towns was duped by this farce. We read the stories in the newspapers about fire bombings, black churches burnt, black men lynched, and crosses burnt in the yards of white people who spoke out against the Klan. I wonder if we will ever know what percentage of Florida law enforcement officers were members of the Klan. I suspected many of my neighbors were members, including some who went to my church. To paraphase the old Texas song:
“The Klan’s eyes are upon you, All the livelong day. The Klan’s eyes are upon you, You cannot get away.
One never knew who one was talking to. I hope the recent emergence of white supremacist groups isn’t returning the country to those times. Those times extended into the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s a photo of a 1970s march in Tallahassee:
KKK rally from the 1950s:
Here we have a crowd watching the KKK burn a cross:
The Klan was very strong in Florida in spite of the state’s pristine, playground image disseminated in magazines and vacation brochures.
The KKK as an enemy organization is a major focus of my Florida Folk Magic Stories novels. In all three novels, a conjure woman is fighting the Klan. That’s why I often call the books crime and conjure stories.
In our kitchen, we keep a colorful scenic calendar, sometimes featuring wildlife and sometimes featuring scenes from national parks and other inspiring landscapes. In my den, I always have a calendar of historic black and white photographs. It comes with my membership in the Montana Historical Society (MHS). These old photographs tell many stories and I never tire of looking at them throughout the year. As more and more archives are digitized, pictures such as those in the calendar are often available for research online. Here’s the cover of my MHS calendar for 2019:
Hmm, we seem to have a problem here. When I worked as a volunteer at a railway museum, our library included a lot of photographs of wrecked locomotives. One of our members had once worked on steam locomotives for the railroads. When I asked him what happened to the locomotives in the pictures, he said they hauled them into the shop, fixed them, and put them back on the line. Today, I suppose the insurance company would come out and mark the equipment as totaled.
These old pictures are better than rare treasure for history enthusiasts; fans of (for example) trains, old cars, historic buildings; teachers who are working on lesson plans for K-12 classes that focus on state history, authors, and others. The national park services has an archive of old photographs.
You can find other photographs online at the Library of Congress and in the archives of many states under such names as Florida Memory and Georgia Encyclopedia. (Some of these sites include teacher lesson plans.) This access has improved from the old days when one had to travel to a museum on the far side of the country to see roughly classified boxes of papers and photographs in a storage area. Likewise, the historical societies in many states also support the digitization of old newspapers, many of which are appearing in databases sophisticated enough to allow for searches on words in the news stories and photograph cutlines.
It bothers me when I hear that many state school systems no longer teach state history lessons. I know it’s often hard to squeeze in local history when courses must include all of world history or all of U.S. history into an hour a day for one or two semesters. Historic old pictures, when available in a print format, give school systems the opportunity of placing a few of them in frames (with captions) in hallways and classrooms. They might just attract student attention. My wife once curated and mounted an exhibit of old photographs in a high school where we used to live. Opening day attracted a lot of attention, including a news story in several papers.
I’ve been happy to see many of these old pictures showing up on Facebook, sometimes from sources such as “Smithsonian Magazine” that remind people of lesser-known events and people. Many of them get a lot of LIKES and comments, including “Why wasn’t this information in my school history books?” (I often wonder why as well.)
If you know about your state’s history, I think you have a better shot at understanding why things there are as they are. You can also help combat misinformation in hastily researched news stories and online essays in which the writer clearly doesn’t know what happened in his or her state prior to last week. Growing up in Florida, I constantly saw (and still see) mistaken pronouncements about the reasons for the Seminole Wars or about the conflicts between Spain and France to control the region. You can probably cite similar examples from the state where you live.
Old photographs won’t fix the gaps in our educational systems, but they might attract some attention to the many things we don’t know about the places where we live.
Sometimes I think historical research for my novels set in Montana (“The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande”) and Florida (“Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena”) took more hours than writing the novels. I didn’t mind because the old photographs and newspapers were very addictive.
This Kindle e-book, regularly priced at $7.99, will be free on Amazon November 15-17, 2018.
As I hear it, summer romances are usually bittersweet. Mine was. They begin with a surprise, evolve into passion, turn sad and desperate at summer’s end, and then in spite of promises and best intentions, they often fade away. Perhaps the two lovers in Mountain Song will beat the odds.
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?
The settings in this book are real. The mountains are those of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. The swamp is the notorious Tate’s Hell Swamp along the gulf coast in the Florida Panhandle.
The First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee is the capital’s oldest building in continual use. It was dedicated in 1838. Atypical in the South, the church accepted slaves as members who sat in a balcony that runs along three sides of the sanctuary’s “second floor.” Earlier, the church served as a refuge during the Seminole Wars and then, in the 1960s, as a leader in the civil rights movement.
I was a member of this church during my K-12 years in Tallahassee. My brothers and I were also members of Boy Scout Troop 101 sponsored by the church during those years. All three of us became Eagle Scouts, so it saddens me that the church at some point ended its association with scouting. It also saddened me when a large number of members who disagreed with the church’s civil rights stance split off during the mid-1960s and formed a new church.
The church is on the National Register of Historic Places where its Gothic Revival architecture is noted. The foundation included rifle slots that, by now, have probably been covered over. In contrast, solar panels now provide a portion of the church’s power and were–in 2010–considered the county’s second-largest solar panel array.
My father, Laurence, wrote the church’s sesquicentennial booklet of poems called “The Future of Old First in 1982.” He had, in earlier years, been a deacon, elder, Cub Scout pack leader, and explorer post leader.
The photograph shown here was taken sometime in the 1800s:
The church as it appears today, with the Methodist Church in the background and the church’s education building on the right hand side of the picture:
I don’t know if the church ever rings the bell in the steeple these days. At some point, the steeple was renovated and those of us attending Sunday school classes were allowed to ring the bell on Sunday mornings. The bellrope was accessed through a trap door above the balcony pews just above the church’s narthex. Everyone wanted to ring the bell! We loved it for its old fashioned sound, a sound out of history.
The Kindle edition of Lena, the third novel in the Florida Folk Magic trilogy, is the prize in an Amazon sweepstakes that runs through August 22. Four copies are available. The winners will be selected at random when the sweepstakes ends and sent to those with the winning entries by Amazon. There’s no purchase necessary. Entrants will be asked to follow my Amazon author’s page which is something I know you want to do anyway. Click on the book cover to go to the sweepstakes page.
The Kindle edition of Mountain Song, a Montana novel with a few scenes in the Florida Panhandle, is Free on Amazon between August 16 and August 20. David, who grows up on a Montana sheep ranch and wants to spend his life climbing mountains, meets Anne Hill from Florida who is a child of the state’s swamps and blackwater rivers. They meet as seasonal hotel employees at Glacier National Park. A summer romance begins. But will it last?
The Kindle edition of At Sea, a Vietnam War novel and the sequel to Mountain Song, is free on Amazon between August 18 and August 21. David is assigned to an aircraft carrier serving on Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam. This book was inspired by my time aboard the carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61).