Magazines That Just Couldn’t Cut It

For every successful magazine, hundreds fail either because they’re flat stupid, were published before their time, or were written and edited by nuts. Here are my memories of those that didn’t make the grade.

  • Jupiter Images graphic

    Bad House Keeping – Written by trailer trash for trailer trash, but went off the rails when it also tried to appeal to artists, writers and other dreamers who didn’t have time to keep house.

  • Bizarre – Featured photographs taken by readers while they were drunk about stuff that seemed funny at the time but, as it turned out, was trivial and boring later on.
  • Croquet Digest: Readers were never sure whether this magazine was about the game or fried rolls of bread and meat. Those who thought it was about croquettes unsubscribed then many of those who thought the magazine was about croquet claimed to be using croquettes instead of balls because what else were they good for?
  • Hades Home Journal: Editors thought this take-off on “Ladies Home Journal” would document what life was like for most housewives, that is to say, life in a hell of dirty diapers, burnt food, endless dust, and unfaithful husbands. Even those who sent in true stories hated the magazine because they wanted to pretend life in housewife hell didn’t exist.
  • HayBoy: This original spoof of “Playboy” failed because–contrary to marketing predictions–nobody wanted to see cartoons and photographs about scantily clad men working on a farm.  Even the dazzling articles about crop rotation and the center spreads featuring John Deere, Ford, Massey Fergusson, Case, and Farmall tractors couldn’t save the magazine.
  • Homewrecker: Based on high divorce rates, publishing moguls decided there was probably a huge audience of wanton women who were being neglected by mainstream media. This publication pioneered in the publication of ground-breaking techniques for stealing a man away from goody-two-shoes women who were reading “Good Housekeeping” and “House Beautiful.” Basically, the church got ticked off at this magazine and said everyone associated with it was going to hell, so that pretty much scared advertisers and readers away.
  • McBalls: This magazine, aimed at the husbands of women who lived their lives by the gospel of “McCalls,” focused on dangerous methods of barbecuing, high-energy and potentially fatal sports, living lives based on the “hey, honey, watch this” philosophy, and featured centerfolds of stuff that blew up or caught on fire. The magazine had a spectacular first year, but after that it lost readers when most of them died.
  • Photoclay – A bunch of potters in a collective run by visionary manufacturers of wheels, kilns, and other craft supplies, saw the success of “Photoplay” and thought, “why not clay?” As it turned out, nobody much cared about pictures of clay or even the gory pictures of stuff that blew up in the kilns.
  • Popular Seance – This magazine was the best of the best during the spiritualism craze, featuring articles by spirits such as Patience Worth, Ouija Board techniques, and how to contact uncle Danny in the afterworld to find out where the hid all his gold. Then a horde of spoilsports came along and said spiritualism was mostly frauds taking people’s money. Subscribers thought that was a real downer and left the magazine to become Tarot card readers.
  • Everyone can’t produce a successful magazine.

    Popular Quantum Mechanics: When the magazine came out, nobody knew squat about quantum physics, so naturally they thought everything in the magazine was about a bunch of frauds taking people’s money.  How, people asked, could there be multiple universes when one was bad enough? How could a butterfly flapping its wings in Tallahassee, Florida, cause a rain form in Walla Walla, Washington? The magazine was a true gem that failed before people were ready for it.

  • La Vie Fille de la Joie: Hookers, according to the magazine’s cover blurb, brought an infinite amount of joy to men who “weren’t getting any at home.” The photographs and articles, according to even the most Victorian critics, were tastefully done and “made calling a call girl seem like a religious experience.” As had happened before with people just having a bit of fun, the church got ticked off at this magazine and said everyone sleeping with daughters of joy was going to hell. This idea bothered people and they canceled their subscriptions even though they continued to find love with unknown ladies leaning against lamp posts.
  • New Porker: This brave magazine was the champion of pigs and could tell you how to bring home the best bacon, carve a pork roast, and cook center-cut pork chops with out drying them out. The trouble was, most people think pigs are  gross, stupid, and filthy and balked at the idea of leaning anything more about them. Even the hog-calling “Sooie Short Stories” series couldn’t save the magazine.
  • Saturday Evening Fencepost: The trouble began when the magazine couldn’t entice Norman Rockwell to do their covers art featuring farmers, farmers’ wives, and hired hands sitting on fence posts creating sonnets about barbed wire, gates, barns, and silos. Somehow, a nasty campaign by other magazines convinced readers that this magazine was for people who were “dumb as a post.” Even those who knew they were dumb as a post didn’t want to be told they were dumb as a post.
  • Silver Scream: Since “Silver Screen” was a popular magazine, why not focus on the dark site of making movies, starting out with some of the best screams anyone ever heard in a feature film? As it turned out, readers didn’t want to focus on the shower scene in “Psycho” as much as editors thought, so the magazine went under with a whimper a few years after it began.
  • The Smart Seat: This magazine, a jibe at the popular “Smart Set,” featured seats, mainly toilet seats, but occasionally various hot seats and other places people found themselves sitting. The magazine was funny at first and then it wasn’t, some say because a story called “Toilet Seats I’ve Known and Loved” grossed people out. Then, too, legislatures claimed that using the word “ass” in a periodical made the whole thing obscene and got the copies removed from the shelves.
  • If you can’t be Vogue, be Vague.

    The UnAmerican Girl: With “American Girl” all the rage in those days, girls who weren’t American weren’t getting any news coverage. Unfortunately, the name of the magazine gave readers the impression that the magazine was about commies and other nefarious women who were out to take away America’s freedoms. Actually, that was probably true, though it was never proven. Even though many men thought dating an unAmerican girl was sexy, the FBI thought it wasn’t, and that pretty much killed the magazine.

  • Vague: The publisher wanted to compete with “Vogue,” but never figured out how to do it. The result was a wishy-washy magazine that wasn’t about anything other than people who had no idea what they were doing. It was not surprise that those people didn’t have any money, consequently they could afford subscriptions or buy anything from the magazine’s advertisers. The whole thing was so nebulous that nobody ever knew when there the magazine was sold, what it was about, or when it went out of business.

Briefly noted: ‘Welcome to Night Vale’

Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, (Harper Perennial, October 2015), 416pp.

Look at how this book begins:

Pawnshops in Night Vale work like this.

First you need an item to pawn.

To get this, you need a lot of time behind you, years spent living and existing, until you’ve reached a point where you believe that you exist, and that a physical item exists, and that the concept of ownership exists, and that, improbable as all those are, these absurd beliefs line up in a way that results in you owning an item.

Good job. Nicely done.

I’m hooked already because this is something different, a unique way of getting this humorous contemporary fantasy underway, and–one hopes–as s/he reads further that the authors will be able to maintain the style and tone of their opening. They do.

From the Publisher

nightvale“Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

“Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked “KING CITY” by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.”

We’re a not visiting the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” aren’t we? There’s no handy expert standing by a few minutes away who can drop by to analyze the item. Fink and Cranor have a jump start with this book, drawing from the popular “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast that The Guardian says is like a local news Twin Peaks.

From the Reviewers

Welcome to Night Vale has an average Amazon reviewer rating of 4.6 with 75% or the reviewers awarding it 5 stars.

Kirkus Reviews starred review sums up, I believe, the general view of professional reviewers: “All hail the glow cloud as the weird and wonderful town of Night Vale brings itself to fine literature…A delightfully bonkers media crossover that will make an incredible audiobook.” I think of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series as somewhat bonkers and Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as totally bonkers. I don’t think it’s heresy to say Welcome to Night Vale will remind readers of the best of each–in addition to the “Twin Peaks” thing. Oh, and a dash of “Twilight Zone.”

We’re a long way from Harry Potter. In fact, I’m not quite sure where we are. Cory Doctorow seems to know: “They’ve done the unthinkable: merged the high weirdness and intense drama of Night Vale to the pages of a novel that is even weirder, even more intense than the podcast.”

For my money, both “Twin Peaks” and “Lost” ultimately fell apart because the writers added so much weirdness that they had no place left to go. Fink and Cranor don’t let things get that far out of hand, and that’s good, because it would have been a real shame to let the promise of the opening lines become lost in, say, a dark Marx brothers/Three Stooges comedy.

If you enjoy a drink, pour yourself several fingers of something good, for Welcome to Night Vale is a delightfully bumpy ride.


TSSJourneysMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer” which is free on Kindle December 17-20, 2015.



A few potentially humorous quotes about writing

When a blogger is too tired to write something original, s/he compiles a list of something or other. Today’s list is composed of funny quotes about writing.

  • writing“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” ― Dorothy Parker
  • “I wrote a few children’s books. Not on purpose.” – Steven Wright
  • “Frankly, my dear, I should bury your script in a drawer and put a lily on top.”  – Noël Coward
  • “If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us.” — William Faulkner
  • “If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.” – Kingsley Amis
  • “One trouble with developing speed-reading skills is that by the time you realize a book is boring, you’ve already finished it.” –   Franklin P Jones
  • “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.” – John Steinbeck
  • “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” — Robert A. Heinlein
  • Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.” – H. L. Mencken
  • “Panicky despair is an underrated element of writing.” ― Dave Barry
  • “I leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard
  • “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx
  • “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.” – Robert Benchley
  • “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain
  • “When male authors write love stories, the heroine tends to end up dead.” ― Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    “In Hollywood the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing.” – Will Rogers
  • “I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.” – Patrick Dennis
  • “This is the sixth book I’ve written, which isn’t bad for a guy who’s only read two.” – George Burns

Audio edition of ‘Jock Stewart Strikes Back’ released

Jock Stewart Strikes Back by Malcolm R. Campbell –Now Available Audio, Print and All Ebook Editions!

JSSB Audiographic

Jock Stewart Strikes Back

by Malcolm E. Campbell

Since modern-day journalism is going to hell in a hand basket and/or nowhere fast, Jock Stewart strikes back by categorizing news events as satirical, outlandish, strange or political. Nonetheless, according to informed sources, the use of this volume as a journalism textbook has not been authorized anywhere the world is right as rain.

The fictional news stories and “Night Beat” editorial columns in this collection began as posts on the “Morning Satirical News” weblog and subsequently appeared in the Worst of Jock Stewart and/or the “Jock Talks” series of e-books. Jock Talks…Politics was a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee.

Stewart, who served diligently as the protagonist in Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, refutes charges that he was raised by alligators or hyenas. When he was a young boy, his dear old daddy said, “Jock, everyone but you and me is scum and I’m not sure about you.”

That proverb opened Jock’s eyes to the realities of the world, primarily that everything is worse than it seems: the small-town newspaper, the Star-Gazer, is allegedly run by fools and buffoons; the Junction City, Texas, government is allegedly corrupt and inept.

Production Notes

Jock Stewart Strikes Back is narrated and produced by Barry Newman, Florida. Barry’s career in media and journalism, including voice work in radio and TV commercials, lends a unique ‘Jock-ness’ to the production, and we look forward to working with him again in the future.

Where You Can Find It








Jock Stewart Strikes Back Sneak Peek Video

Prude and Prejudice, a JSSB Excerpt

Jock Stewart Strikes Back, Collected Stories, by Malcolm R. Campbell,  Vanilla Heart Publishing (March 6, 2014), 122 pp, paperback ($9.46) and Kindle ($3.99).

JSSBcover2The book contains farcical and satirical news stories written by “Jock Stewart,” a reporter for the Junction City, Texas Star-Gazer. Here’s an excerpt:

Literary Investigators Discover Jane Austen Actually Wrote
‘Prude and Prejudice’

Pinnacle, MT—Forensic literary sleuths digging through the long lost ashes of a Jane Austen notebook have discovered that a publisher’s typography error forever changed the title of the witty satire incorrectly known as Pride and Prejudice.

Dr. Horace Wickam, chairman of the department of forensic literature at Slippery Slope College, told reporters that correcting Austen’s body of work will most likely be the pinnacle of his career.

“The novel we have known and loved as Pride and Prejudice was initially called First Impressions,” Wickam said. “But according to Jane’s reassembled ashes, a typographer inadvertently changed the word in the new title from ‘prude’ to ‘pride.’”

Graduate assistant Judy Netherfield said that while foul play was not yet suspected it was not yet ruled out.

According to Wickam, the error in the title was compounded, and therefore obscured, by the fact that a crucial line of dialogue was omitted from a conversation in chapter four between protagonist
Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane.

Elizabeth’s reassembled comment reads as, “Dear Jane, you see, don’t you, that prudes are the most prejudiced creatures in the world because they are so afraid the next person they see will say the very thing they’re most afraid of hearing.”

Mainstream literary sources said Wickam and Netherfield’s preposterous speculations were “highly prejudicial.”

Professor Darcy, chairman of the Slippery Slope department of psychic psychology, told reporters that two students working with a digital Ouija board contacted Ms. Austen who confirmed the veracity of the discovery.

“Ms. Austen, who always thought prudes to be disagreeable, remains perturbed to this day about the errors in Prude and Prejudice,” said Darcy. “Austen admitted, via the Ouija board, ‘I to not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me from liking them a great deal.’”

London scholar Edward Bingley, who has been working for 20 years on his epic What Jane Really Meant, said that since he continues to be denied access to the digital Ouija board at Slippery Slope, he doesn’t yet know what Jane really meant.

Wickam said, “as the novel illustrates in matters of love, when you have an empty-headed mother trying to expediently marry off her five daughters, prude goeth before the fall.”

Future projects on the department of forensic literature department’s 2006 schedule include investigations of The Clown of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Blackberry Finn and The Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam.


Writing Tip: Use Humor as Part of Your Character Development

We remember some friends because they tell lame jokes and other friends because they’re guilty of non-stop puns. Perhaps these traits have little or nothing to do with these folks’ jobs, causes, abilities as parents, or the heroic deeds they may perform. Yet, they are one of the ways we know them.

A sense of humor, or the inadvertent habit of doing funny or odd things, can also help readers get to know your characters in a novel or short story.

For example, in my contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer, my fiery red-headed character Cinnabar’s favorite phrase is “Holy Bear Puke” and the blustery blacksmith in charge of weapons constantly misuses everyday words. Such traits become “signature traits,” rather like the theme songs that accompany characters in movies. They not only make the characters three-dimensional, but are like comfort food to readers whenever the humor repeats itself randomly through a story.

I thought of the beauty of humor—as a character trait and as a way of suddenly lightening up the tone of a fast-paced or frightening story—when I found veteran author Lisa Goldstein using it in her fantasy The Uncertain Places to show us “something extra” about protagonist Will Taylor and his long-time friend Ben Avery.

As with many people who’ve known each other since childhood, they’ve developed  their own brand of wild-and-crazy repartee. The humor is part of who they are, and Goldstein uses it to good advantage in developing these characters.

For example, Goldstein drops this old Will-and-Ben riff into a dinner-table conversation:

“Will and I are thinking about writing a movie,”  Ben said. “It’s called ‘Theater Closed for Repairs.'”

We’d told this joke before, of course. It was one of the routines we did, our two-man band. People either got it or told us we were idiots. This time Livvy and Maddie laughed, though Mrs. Feierabend looked a little confused.

I like this because it defines everyone at the table. It’s not only typical Will and Ben, but includes the kinds of reactions the reader is coming to expect from Livvy, Maddie, and their mother. Also, Goldstein doesn’t belabor the joke. Some readers won’t get it. Some will smile and move on. Others (like me) will stop and ponder the beauty of the words THEATER CLOSED FOR REPAIRS on a marquee while wondering about the reactions of passersby.

Set in 1971, The Uncertain Places makes frequent counter-culture references. Maddie, for example mentions marching in a protest parade with a group called the Young Socialist Alliance, leading to this exchange with Will:

“Wait a minute,” I said.”You’re a Trotskyite!”

“Trotskyist,” Maddie said. “Yeah, what about it?”

I knew she had radical politics, but I’d had no idea. To me, Trotskyists were like Cubs fans—their team was never going to win, but you had to admiore their loyalty.

Since my mother was a Cubs fan, I have to smile at this, not to mention knowing full well what her (and any other Cubs fan’s) reaction to such a comment would be. Will and Maddie’s conversation occurs on page 34 of the book, but even this early in the story, everything about it is so typical of both Will and Maddie, that I nod as I read it, and think, “Yes, that’s the kind of thing Maddie would say and the kind of thing Will would think—but leave unsaid.”

I’m getting to know and care about the characters of the book, partly because the there are a lot of strange things going on in the Feierabend household and Will, with some help from Ben, is trying to figure out the mystery. The humor doesn’t move the plot forward, but it is a wonderful part of the author’s character development.

A Word of  Caution

As you consider using a bit of humor to develop the characters in your stories, a word of caution. The humor needs to fit the character. It needs to be just what the reader would expect from him or her. Mrs. Feierabend never would come up with the THEATER CLOSED FOR REPAIRS gag any more than she would burst forth with a string old genie jokes or flirty stories filled with sexual innendos. She’s not that kind of person.

My thought is: make the humor fit and don’t run it into the ground turning it into the kind of flaw in the story reviewers like to point out. A quick laugh, and then get on with the plot.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four novels from Vanilla Heart Publishing, including the recently release contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.”

‘Jock Talks – The Collection’ Gobsmacks Readers

Everett, WA, May 29, 2011 (Star-Gazer News Service)–Vanilla Heart Publishing is seriously gobsmacked to announce that invesitigative reporter Jock Stewart might not be a real person.

Stewart, whose Jock Talks – The Collection was released by Vanilla Heart today, used an autopen to tell reporters that he’s just as real as Betty Crocker and Cap’n Crunch.

Jock Talks – The Collection is, first of all, a collection,” the autopen said. “For only 3.99, readers who want to be seriously gobsmacked and/or laugh their butts off will find 117 pages of satire, parody and other lies from four stunning e-books:”

  • Jock Talks… Satirical News
  • Jock Talks… Politics
  • Jock Talks… Strange People
  • Jock Talks… Outlandish Happenings

A Few Choice Excerpts

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Capitol building will be dismantled by the end of the day to clear the way for an Almighty Dollar Big Box Store, the Manifest Destiny Development Corporation (MDDC) announced this morning.

“I blame news editors for the dumbing down of America,” said DDAS president Mary Worth. “Today, while the Libyan Civil war rages on, the two biggest stories are ―UNEXPECTED PAIR SENT HOME ON DANCING WITH THE STARS and PIA TOSCANO SENT HOME FROM AMERICAN IDOL.'”

Junction City, TX—Last night, I dreamt I’d fallen on hard times and had once again been forced to take a job as Britney Spears’ cook.

Dubbed the Shit to Shinola Highway, Interstate 666 rips through Junction City‘s primeval forest where the wind stings the toes and bites the nose.

Daytona Beach, FL―The latest racket in the death business is the sale of skyscraper crypts for those who want to advertise how high they climbed before they died.

Greg, Jim, Dixie and Sweetie Pie of Junction City’s Cry of the Raven Memorial Gardens are among the 72,000 dead Americans who received stimulus checks of $250 each from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as part of a massive economic recovery package intended to stimulate a dying economy.

“I may be butt ugly, but the rest of me is pure goddess.”

At a press conference at high noon today, Vanilla Heart Publishing’s Satire Editor Bill Smith (not his real name) said he used the word gobsmacked after hearing Chef Gordon Ramsay use the expression a thousand times on Fox Broadcasting’s “Kitchen Nightmares.”

“Gordon also screams, IT’S RAW, IT’S RAW,” said Smith, “but the phrase seemed totally inappropriate for a collection of satire.”

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the “Jock Talks” series of satirical e-books and the novel “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”

Three ‘Jock Talks’ Satires Published

Vanilla Heart Publishing has released three Jock Talks satire collections available in multiple e-book formats.

Written by Malcolm R. Campbell (Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, 2009) Jock Talks Outlandish Happenings, Jock Talks Politics, and Jock Talks Strange People are jam-packed with the best and the wildest post from his Morning Satirical News weblog.

The e-books are available on Kindle for 99 cents each. They are also available in multiple formats, including PDF, at Smashwords at 99 cents.

Except from Jock Talks Strange People

Readers Looking for ‘The Lust Symbol’ Ravish Bookstore

Angry, and apparently horny, shoppers tore apart the Main Street Book Emporium at high noon today looking for a book purportedly called The Lust Symbol.

Owner Jim Exlibris, who accidentally promoted a one-hour half price sale for Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol with a 48-point Century Gothic “‘LUST SYMBOL’ REDUCED FOR HARD-UP READERS” headline, said that he could only blame himself for the misunderstanding.

“I just a country bookseller, not a advertising specialist or a bloody proofreader,” said Exlibris.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, so many people in heat at the same time. They ran through my shop like bulls from Pamplona trying to find The Lust Symbol. They tripped over a life-size cardboard cutout of Dan Brown next to my display for The Lost Symbol without even noticing it.”

Police, who were enjoying lunch-time doughnuts across the intersection at the Krispy Kreme are being criticized for failing to respond to the bookstore riot.

“We presumed the whole thing was just customers having fun,” Chief Kruller. “Sure, we thought there might be porn involved, but the FEDs handle all of Junction City’s porn.

Witnesses report that Exlibris escaped from the mob, ran across the street, threw a copy of The Lost Symbol against the side of Sergeant Wayne Bismarck’s head, and screamed “arrest somebody, dammit, they claim I’m hiding all my lust from them.”

“Nobody’s ever thrown the book at me before,” Bismarck said.
According to local bookmakers who serve as police consultants, Exlibris “has a lot of priors” when it comes to misleading advertising. Main Street Book Emporium entries in the police database include advertisements for books called Bone With the Wind, Jane Error, The Hell Seekers, For Whom the Belle Rolls and the Handmaid’s Tail.

Friends of the Library board members Hilda Meek and Anna Van Landingham, who were in the store to pick up a box of books Exlibris was donating to the lost readers program, said under interrogation they believed the purported “lust for lost” misprint was a publicity stunt.

“We make proofreading mistakes at the Public Library all the time,” said Meek. “Last year when we promoted a ‘fun at the pubic library ball,’ we feigned embarrassment and everyone ended up having a bang-up time.”

Police warned Exlibris to improve his proofreading skills or else.

Review: ‘The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy’

The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold GuppyThe Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy by Gina Collia-Suzuki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Alex and her husband Roy move into an apartment in a middle class English neighborhood and meet their grumpy, greedy and potentially insane neighbors, Ben and Pat Guppy, it becomes abundantly clear before chapter one ends with “And with that the battle lines were drawn up,” that any sane person would begin considering murder as a viable alternative to long-term unpleasantness.

After all, in any aquarium of dazzling tropical fish, the guppy is background clutter at best. But, should the rather plain and unamazing fish go rogue—like Benjamin and Pat in the finite world of the apartment building—then when all else fails, stricter measures appear more reasonable than reasonable measures.

In the well-written and vastly humorous “The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy,” Ben and Pat are quite accustomed to ruling their environment. New tenants, such as Alex and Roy, are informed by the 70-year-old Benjamin Guppy on day one of his rules and expectations: bedtime (and quiet) begin at ten except on Sundays when they commence at nine, dinner is at five. It gets worse. The Guppy’s don’t like to hear music, water draining out of the bathtub, or toilets being flushed.

Alex, who tells this story, says of Benjamin Guppy on the first page: “He made no effort to conceal his dislike of us from the outset, his opinion being formed immediately that we were not his sort of people. I consider myself fortunate in that.”

The Guppy’s shenanigans, and the delightfully droll and deadpan way the novel unfolds, are reminiscent of the outlandish kinds of circumstances played out in the 1970s BBC sitcom “Fawlty Towers.” Benjamin and Pat are clearly a couple of rogue guppies, yet their outlandish activities, their low character and the absurdity of their endless fishy demands for money for fabricated damages to their flat appear to be unnoticed by everyone except Alex and Roy.

Will Alex kill Benjamin? She has cause. And while her cause is a funny one—from the reader’s perspective—it’s hard to imagine Benjamin and Pat being humorous in real life. The strength of the book is an understated humor that builds throughout the novel rather like a snowball rolling down a steep hill. While some of Benjamin’s and Pat’s abusive words and deeds become a bit repetitive, Gina Collia-Suzuki’s style and tone more than makes up for that.

“The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy” is good for a lot of laughs, some uncomfortable truths about the nature of ill-bred apartment dwellers, and—for philosophers—an opportunity to ponder just how long a couple of angel fish can possibly swim in the dark and dangerous currents of an environment with so little privacy and space, the walls might as well be made of glass.

View all my reviews

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” “The Sun Singer,” and “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey.”

Jock Stewart’s Christmas Carol

Coming December 17: Dine Along – Recipes from Vanilla Heart Publishing authors. Learn how to make Coral Snake Smith’s Purple Platter Meatloaf.

Yes, “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” is on Kindle at only $5.99.

“For those that like authors like Vonnegut or Miller, ‘Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire’ is a must-read. The book contains a lot of dark humour, moments of sexual tension, and characters that go back and forth between light and dark. Campbell’s play on words and original plot is sure to keep any reader on his or her toes.” — Nora Caron, “Journey to the Heart.”