A mix of stuff, i.e. a potpourri (without herbs)

  • My latest post “How are You Feeling?” was written in hopes followers of this blog would respond with their own comments and stories about coping with the pandemic. I was disappointed in the lack of response.
  • I’m coping by working on my next novel. It seems to be about halfway done, though I’m usually the last to know. It continues where my Florida Folk Magic Trilogy ends, though it’s by no means a sequel (unless my publisher tells me it’s a sequel).
  • I’m also coping by re-reading old books, currently James Patterson’s Instinct about a serial killer who leaves cryptic clues to his next victim by placing a playing card next to each person he murders. The novel came out in 2017 and was co-written by Howard Roughan. It demonstrates the problem with the police using the services of an expert. If the murders keep going on and on an on, the expert really isn’t solving anything. If the murders stop right after the expert solves the whole case on page 20, you don’t have much of a novel.
  • My wife and I see to be trading the low-grade flu back and forth. Not sure how to fix that except for both of us to take it easy and get extra sleep.
  • I listened to Queen Elizabeth II’s brief pandemic speech on TV last night and though it was a reasonable appeal for working together to solve this crisis as Brits have done before. She’s old enough to remember the Blitz, the country’s attempts to find safe places for the children, and the resolve with which everyone mobilized for efforts in battlezones and on the homefront.
  • Comfort food is a high priority with us right now. I just took a squash casserole out of the oven to be warmed up for several meals. My wife’s been making pies and rice casseroles. We usually pair these with whatever we can find on TV, including “How to Get Away With Murder.” Our joke with that series is that (like “Lost”) we seem to know less and less about what’s going on after watching each episode.
  • Stay well.

Malcolm

The cheapness of human life in black ops novels

Surprisingly, black ops novels give me a sense of closure in a world where’s little closure. Another pacifist friend and I discovered that we both watched the TV show “24” because, while “real life” often made us feel powerless in the face of all the issues with seemingly no answers or bad answers, Jack Bauer’s actions on the show brought us a feeling that sometimes bad guys are caught and threats are neutralized.

I feel the same way when I’m reading “Tom Clancy,” James Patterson, and other series in which the good guys see a threat, analyze it, and then put a stop to it. Like Jack Bauer, these good guys operate in groups that are out from under any umbrella of legalities that (as they say) “hampers” black ops.

What bothers me, though, is how cheap life seems to be in these books. If you watched “24” you know there were car chases in which dozens of vehicles (driven by every day innocent people) were shown blowing up, turning over, falling off bridges, etc. in the background. Any police force conducting that kind of chase in “real life” would be on the carpet in minutes. But it “24” those people are collateral damage and (apparently) not so bad a price to play for Bauer catching a notorious bad guy.

While black ops novels seldom have those signature car chases that have been popular in the James Bond movies, a lot of cardboard characters always get blown away with little notice or regret en route to “a more-important goal.”

I’m sure ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see mass numbers of civilian casualties as a sign of success.  Fortunately, the good guys in over-the-top novels, movies, and TV shows aren’t trying to create massive civilian casualties. In fact, in these stories, most of the cardboard characters killed are bad guys with no names who stepped ou from behind a building with blazing Kalashnikovs and got taken out by the good guys. No harm, no foul, right?

Perhaps bad guys and good guys really feel this way in “real life,” and by that I mean, operations that fall into the category of black ops rather than war.  If so, this bothers me more than the deaths in fiction; with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened.

In “real life,” I’m against black ops, but that doesn’t mean that novels about black ops aren’t serving as addictive painkillers against the insanity of the world.

Malcolm

Malcolm R.. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande.”

 

Review: ‘The President is Missing by Clinton and Patterson

The President Is MissingThe President Is Missing by Bill Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those of us who write novels would probably sell out our own grandmothers to collaborate with a former popular President of the United States. The good news is this: the book delivers.

I found myself thinking about the mechanics of collaboration. Did Clinton approach Patterson or did Patterson approach, Clinton? Who wrote what? Who thought of the plot? We may never know. But the plot and presentation succeed because they focus on cyber-warfare or cyber-terrorism, both of which seem to be a real threat these days. That’s the strength of the story: it focuses on a fear many of us have.

The President of the book is believable. (I would hope so.) He’s facing prospective impeachment, something the country lives with every day. He takes risks that make sense to the reader even before we know the extent of the danger. What more could one ask of a chief executive?

We have an unusual mix here: prospective terrorists offering to help the U.S. A potential traitor in the administration’s inner circle. Who can the President trust? The reader might wonder, has any of this happened already and still remains classified?

The novel has a satisfactory conclusion. I could have done without the Presidential address to Congress near the end of the novel because it focused not only on the political polarization within the novel but spoke the polarization of views outside the novel, that is to say, the fact that parties and individuals can’t seem to work together for the common good. Yes, they should be able to do that, but the end of the novel seemed to be a bit of an editorial.

This novel is an entertaining read about issues that might (one day or already) impact the U.S. and other Western nations. It’s food for thought about our dependence on the Internet and about how the nation could or should react to cyber threats. One suspects that Clinton’s knowledge of the presidency brings realism to the story. The scary thing about the book–and why one keeps reading–is that it seems all too real.

Malcolm

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Bees vs Wasps, Soccer, Tennis, and More Hardcover Releases from Thomas-Jacob

  • When I got stung by 8 wasps several weeks ago, I didn’t expect my wife to try to top my experience. Okay, now she’s in first place with 23 aggressive bumblebee stings. She was mowing high grass and brush and hit a hidden nest. I took her to the ER where the folks at Rome, Georgia’s Redmond Hospital couldn’t have been nicer or more responsive. We were there about an hour while they put her on an IV of Epinephrine, Benadryl, saline, and a steroid of some kind. She has lots of swollen places and the expected amount of itching.
  • Great news about the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team beating the Netherlands. I wish them luck in their lawsuit that seeks to equalize prizes and pay between their teams and the men’s teams. There’s no excuse for paying the women a pittance.
  • Today is grocery store day for me, so I was happy that Serena William’s Wimbledon match was set for 8 a.m. She won. That started my day off on a positive note.
  • Among the most recent hardback releases from Thomas-Jacob are the new editions of Melinda Clayton’s four-book Cedar Hollow Series that begins with Appalachian Justice.  This is a highly popular series.

 

  • Being cheap, I waited until The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton came out in trade paperback to buy a copy. I’ve enjoyed the book primarily because it focuses on the problem of cyber-warfare as a real issue that could totally disable the government, military, and commerce of a nation. A very readable book.
  • My upcoming Special Investigative Reporter, a satirical novel about (guess what) an investigative reporter, is working its way through editing, formatting, cover design, and a book trailer. More about that later. Here’s a snippet:

The meatloaf was surprisingly lousy. It was the kind of meatloaf Aunt Edna fixed Jock when he was an innocent kid on or about the time when she was losing track of things such as who he actually was and what ingredients belonged in the food.

  • Thanks to all of you who have been posting reviews on Audible for the audio editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena.
  • Gosh, you’d think a name-brand dryer would last more than 18 months. Ours stopped working last night. We can air dry (ha ha) stuff, but there’s no heat. If it were older, we’d simply replace it, but we’re not like those people who buy new cars whenever the ashtrays get full. First, the bee attack and the ER, and now the dryer quits. Typical trickster crap from the universe.

Malcolm

Review: ‘Juror #3’ by James Patterson and Nancy Allen

Juror #3Juror #3 by James Patterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When a reader buys a book that appears to be a novel, s/he has every right to expect a novel. That’s not what we get with “Juror #3.” Many novels include the words “a novel” on the cover and title page. This one doesn’t. Yet, the presentation implies a book-length story instead of a work that is essentially two short stories with many of the same characters. Without providing a spoiler here, suffice it to say that when the first court case suddenly ends midway through the book, many readers will be disappointed.

The premise is interesting. Fresh out of law school, Ruby Bozart returns to Rosedale, Mississippi where she spent part of her childhood living on the other side of the tracks. She hangs up a shingle, expecting to get her start by practising family law. To her surprise, a judge assigns her to handle a high-profile murder case that appears to be a slam dunk for the district attorney. A black football star has been accused of murdering a white lady at a local country club where he was working as a waiter. He was found with the victim, his hands and clothes covered with her blood.

Bozart is a compelling character. She’s smart and determined to fully represent her well-known client rather than walk through the case, and though she’s made her first friend in town–a fry cook at the local diner–she’s going to need substantial legal advice to go up against an experienced district attorney. As usual, there’s more here than meets the eye, including help from unexpected quarters: a savvy and out-of-the-blue law partner.

As a true novel, the book’s first story would have had more depth and the support characters would have been more fully developed. However, all of the characters are real within the book’s theme and setting, so Patterson fans won’t have any trouble staying up past their bedtimes to find out just what the deal is with the man sitting in the third chair in the jury box.

Once all is said and done and the case ends, Bozart’s former fiancé, the rich Lee Green, Jr., who comes from old money, asks Ruby to defend him against charges he murdered a prostitute in Vicksburg. He claims he’s innocent even though he was found passed out in a hotel room in bed with the dead call girl. Once again, Ruby is facing what appears to be a slam dunk for the prosecution. To make matters worse, the case has gotten so much press coverage in Vicksburg, Ruby doesn’t see how it’s possible for Lee to get a fair trial even if she really wanted to defend him, which she doesn’t.

After all, their engagement ended because he was unfaithful to her. On top of that, his family never accepted her as worthy of him. She takes the case anyway. Like the first story, Ruby shows that in spite of her paltry courtroom experience, she can maintain her poise in a battle against an experienced district attorney who’s just as smug as Lee’s family. Yet she needs more help figuring this case out than she did with the first case. That is to say, while she has gut-feeling suspicions about the prostitute’s death, her partner handles most of the “heavy lifting” that gets Ruby out of a life-threatening jam.

The second story contains many compelling twists and turns, but in general–in these kinds of books–one expects the protagonist to be the hero of the story. It’s probable that Ruby wouldn’t have survived to the end of the second case without her partner’s intervention. For many fans, this is going to weaken the story.

Both stories could have worked on their own had they been presented as short stories even though each of them needed a little more depth even within Patterson’s trademark fast-paced style. The book would have been better if it had been presented openly as two stories. What a shame that it wasn’t put together that way.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

Getting rich writing? Some are, most aren’t!

“The world’s 11 highest-paid authors sold 24.5 million print books combined in the U.S. during our scoring period, logging $283 million. The prolific James Patterson takes first place, earning $86 million and selling 4.8 million books in the U.S. alone, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks 85% of the domestic print market.” – Hayley C. Cuccinello, Forbes

Most authors pay little to no attention to this list. We don’t expect or aspire to be on it because we don’t need that kind of money, don’t want to be public figures, write because it’s what inspires us and drives us, and really don’t want to be busy picking out red leaf lettuce in Kroger when somebody comes up and says, “Hey, aren’t you what’s his face?”

I don’t know why clip artists think we still use typewriters.

The worst thing about this list is that it gives many readers the idea that all authors make more than we do and are probably charging too much for our books. But otherwise, hearing that James Patterson, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham are the top four authors on this year’s list isn’t surprising or exciting, nor does it provoke feelings of jealousy.

Every once in a while, I look at the advertising for book promotional sites to see what they’re pushing. All too often, I see that they provide studies and algorithms that will tell me what topics and plots authors should choose in order to make the most money. When I see that, I click on the X in the upper right corner of my screen and the site goes away. I have no interest in a list of hot themes and hot character types that the public is currently excited about. This is not to say that authors should pick ideas that nobody cares about and stubbornly write about them.

Most of us have our comfort areas, themes that interest us, character types that we love writing about, and locations that lend themselves to the kinds of plots we prefer. Most of us do our best work within our comfort areas and probably would fail miserably if we tried to write a novel that sounded like something any of the top writers on the list are writing. That truth has more to do with who we are than the fact we’d be in competition with a well-known author.

Some of my readers might think that I wrote the Florida Folk Magic trilogy of novels about racism in Florida during the 1950s because racism has become a hot topic again.  But I didn’t. The racism I saw when I was growing up in the Florida Panhandle had been on my mind for a long time. While working on the first book in the series, Conjure Woman’s Cat, I had no idea that the topic was “trending.” I’m pretty sure that when Michael Wolff wrote Fire and Fury, he knew his topic was trending. Did he think his book would catapult him into the list of top-earning authors? I doubt it. I think his book did better than he expected. At the same time, my trilogy didn’t capture the attention I expected.

According to Forbes, Wolff’s book has sold over a million copies in the U.S. Most writers don’t think about sales figures like that. We do think about selling a few thousand copies of each of our books per year. That’s not easy to do for self-published or small-press authors. For one thing, we’re too dependent on Amazon though they certainly can’t be faulted for focusing their efforts on the books that bring in the most bang for the buck, that is to say, the top writers on the Forbes list. For another, reviewers tend to focus on books from large presses that everyone is talking about. That’s simple economics: what brings readers to your publication or website: reviews of books nobody’s ever heard of or reviews of books everybody’s talking about? Not a hard question to answer.

Most readers don’t have enough time to read everything they want to read. I sure don’t. So we all make choices: what books are the most likely to be worth an investment of our time? I read books from many authors on the top of the book selling lists because I like their books and they aren’t likely to disappoint me. But still, I don’t think it’s that hard to add a few self-published or small-press authors to my reading list for the year. Many of them surprise me: wow, these books are great. When I feel that way, I try to post positive reviews and tell my friends about them. I know those authors face the same barriers that I do when it comes to people finding out about their books.

Goodness knows, my opinion isn’t going to send an author’s book into the the James Patterson/Jo Rowling stratosphere of book sales. Yet, if we talk about the self-published and small-press books we like, more people will purchase them and keep those authors busy writing and finding readers who enjoy their work.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

Fast-Paced Books are the Pacifist’s Drano

Okay, the Drano comment isn’t totally fair. Many fast-paced books are well written, have inventive and cohesive plots, know how to keep readers guessing, and when all is said and done, sell to millions of readers. There’s a lot of art and craft to them in addition to marketing savvy.

I might have told this story here before. If so, bear with me. When the TV program “24” was running, a friend of mine and I realized that while we both have non-violent and anti-break-the-rules philosophies about police work and spy work, we puzzled out why we watched that series without fail. We decided that it was because the show brought us closure. That is to say, things got done, the bad guys went to jail, and the good guys (i.e., most of the population) weren’t made to sit in limbo waiting for government red tape and partisan politics to finally fix a problem.

I’m sure many of the viewers of shows like NCIS believe in the right to privacy, yet tolerate the show’s agents illegally hacking into private records because, at the end of the hour, the bad guys are dead or behind bars. I can understand why so many in the police and spy biz say the rules are tying their hands and why we keep hearing that our trusted agencies are doing things they shouldn’t do. Those things get results even though they go against everything this nation stands for.

In “real life,” I can’t support the black ops, off-the-grid actions of private agencies such as those in novels like Typhoon Fury. Half the stuff that happens is illegal as hell–and that’s the good guys. In the imaginary world of the novel, the bad guys get shut down. In the real world we live in, they probably don’t. Or if they do, they cause a lot more collateral damage before they’re stopped. Nonetheless, seeing the bad guys shut down in a novel provides a small measure of relief to all the frustrations that arise in the real world–and in my belief system.

So, I read these novels as a coping mechanism. As a writer, I also find it interesting to see how these novelists handle plots and characters and keep readers reading. But the closure is the important thing, even if it’s only in my thoughts and not in the world I see on the news. Perhaps these books are my heroin. Or maybe they’re the Drano that flushes out my anger at both the criminals and the government for (a) creating problems that harm us all, and (b) for creating regulations that compromise our privacy and other rights in exchange for more security.

Some people turn to booze, some to sex, some to violent sports, some to drugs, some to music, and others to staying late at the office when they really don’t need to ignore their families and stay late at the office. We all have our ways of coping with the realities around us that are over the top. I can’t say that these methods, or reading James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are the best possible solutions.

But until we find and implement the best possible solutions, these escapes keep many of us out of mental institutions. I can’t say I’m proud of that, but I do feel better after flushing a lot of my frustrations about the way the world works out of my system with a slam-bang novel. And when my frustrations are flushed out, I’m less tempted to go over to the dark side.

Malcolm