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

Coming this year: ‘Lena,’ the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series

We hear that books in series tend to sell better than standalone books. But, we also hear that if the first book in a series is well liked, the author might have trouble keeping readers’ interests in subsequent books.

Early reviewers who liked “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” said they though book two, “Eulalie and Washer Woman” was even better. The readers were happy and I was relieved that I hadn’t botched up the whole thing by writing a sequel.

The odd thing is, the sequel has sold fewer copies than the original and has a fraction of the reviews. Go figure.

So, I had mixed feelings writing a third book. On one hand, I thought that with the declining interest shown for book two, it was kind of silly to write book three. However, I had a few things left to say. Or, perhaps, the characters did. Book three was harder to write than the previous books. So, it took longer.

But finally, Lena is almost ready to send to my publisher. We’ve already been having conversations about the cover. As far as the cover goes, our artist for books one and two has moved onto other things. So, we’ll need somebody new.

What’s left to do? Well, this is the polishing the manuscript phase. That means going through the story page by page to get rid of any inconsistencies, typos, continuity problems, or stupid mistakes I can find before sending the DOC file to Thomas-Jacob Publishing. Fortunately, we have a great editor who will catch 99 and 44/100 percent of the mistakes I miss.

I have no idea how long it will take to get everything squared away. Several months, perhaps. Like most authors who get to know their characters throughout a series of books, I will miss these people. But, I suspect it’s time to move on to other themes and other stories. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)

For years, I wondered if I would ever find the characters and story lines to write about the racism in Florida during the years when I was growing up. For prospective readers, I hope I did.

Malcolm

Click on my name for my website.

Review: ‘Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance’ by Ruth Emmie Lang

Beasts of Extraordinary CircumstanceBeasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first sentence of the publisher’s description sounds like a writing prompt: “Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people.” Going back to the Romulus and Remus myth and wolves appearances in fairy tales, the notion about a young boy growing up amongst wolves is old and filled with so much symbolism that it’s almost archetypal.

As a writer, I like playing “what if?” So, it would be interesting to hear that Lang stumbled across such a writing prompt and wondered what would happen if she made a serious attempt to create an engaging story out of it. “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance” is definitely engaging. It’s also beautifully written. However, in a recent interview with “Library Journal,” Lang said the story arose out of an idea about an adept beekeeper, and I don’t see it as a spoiler to say that Weylyn knows a lot about bees.

This is a nearly wonderful debut novel. It’s been praised in reader and editorial reviews that are well deserved. Lang has great promise as a successful author, but I hope that in subsequent novels, she develops a stronger focus. The story is told through multiple points of view, some more relevant than others. While this approach serves to make Weylyn more mysterious, it also introduces us to some characters that don’t have recurring or important roles to play. This dilutes the book’s focus because, in spite of the truths the weaker of these characters have to offer, we have no reason to care about these people or to appreciate their intrusion into the story.

The book is billed as magical realism. That’s probably the “proper” genre for it. However, the book is more of a mythic story or fairy tale because the its realism is weak–and it shouldn’t be. While Lang’s wont for Weylyn to drift in and out of other people’s lives is realistic and well handled, the wolves–and to some extent, the bees and other critters–are unrealistic. Weylyn knows what he knows about wolves and bees from his own unique talents and experiences. Yet, the wolves and bees are present in the story when Weylyn isn’t involved and their actions need a stronger basis in fact-based truths about how they would interact “in real life” with people who aren’t magical.

The lack of realism reduces the impact of the novel’s magic. The extraneous characters muddy the novel’s focus and keep readers forever at an arm’s length from Weylyn. I liked reading “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance,” but was distracted by the missing components that could have made it a much stronger story.

View all my reviews

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, paranormal, and magical realism novels and short stories. His most recent magical realism novels are “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

Review: ‘The Dovekeepers’ by Alice Hoffman

The DovekeepersThe Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Masada The last bastion of the Jewish freedom fighters against the Roman army symbolizes the end of the Kingdom of Judah at the end of the Second Temple period and its violent destruction. On the mountaintop there are remains of magnificent palaces from the reign of King Herod and silent committees for the Roman siege and the bitter end. The mountain that became a symbol.” – Masada National Park Website

Our knowledge of the siege of Masada by the Roman legion comes to us primarily from the chronicle written by Josephus, a Jewish rebel leader who was captured by Rome in an earlier battle, became a Roman Citizen, and was commissioned to write about the Jewish-Roman war. Josephus’ account, which some consider problematic and likely to have a Roman bias, has been enhanced by conservation, restoration, geographical, and archaeological work that’s ongoing at the site in modern-day Israel.

Alice Hoffman’s imagined and heavily researched retelling of those final days at Masada through the eyes of four strong and complex women characters, Aziza, Yael, Revka, and Shirah, breathes new life into our understanding of what has been called the Giant Revolt as well as the freedom fighters’ culture, daily lives and spiritual beliefs. These four women are Masada’s dovekeepers, looking after massive dovecotes where the birds are fed and cared for, the eggs gathered for food, and the excrement taken to enrich the mountain’s gardens and fields.

The storyline follows these women–who to varying degrees follow the outlawed practices of witchcraft–as they travel to the mountain, become part of the daily life and commerce of the community there, and as the Roman Legion approaches and begins its siege, how they coped with the developing reality of a Roman victory.

These four women, as well as many other players in the story, are deeply developed by Hoffman to the extent that we know their inner-most thoughts and dreams and the secrets of their souls. Hoffman’s penchant for magic plays a strong role here. Since the outcome of the novel cannot go against history, the magic will not defeat the Romans. But it will play a role in the characters’ lives.

Magical realism ties the book together in many respects because magic cannot be separated from the four women’s view of the world or their daily practices. Also, like modern-day traditional witchcraft and conjure, magic cannot be easily separated from the place where it lives. The result for the reader is an immersion into Masada. What we know after reading the novel may not be wholly factual (thought Hoffman defers to Josephus’ account), but it is definitely true.

The truth of the matter is that we come away from this wondrous book, having read a compelling story and with a greater understanding of what it might have been like to be trapped within that mountain fortress nearly 2000 years ago. Some critics say The Dovekeepers is Hoffman’s masterpiece. That’s an understatement. You must read it when you’re ready to read it, for it’s not an easy story. It will probably change you. Some day–but not today–I will forgive Alice Hoffman for plunging me into the horrors and triumphs of that faraway world.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two Florida folk magic novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” Learn more on his website.

View all my reviews

Review: Alice Hoffman’s ‘The Rules of Magic’

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Rules of Magic,” the prequel to Alice Hoffman’s 1995 bestseller “Practical Magic,” sparkles with the same wisdom and magical realism as the witching story of Sally and Gillian Owens did twenty two years ago. The characters, stories and writing style of this stunning prequel fit hand-in-glove with the characters, stories and writing style of “Practical Magic,” not an easy bit of conjuring for an author to face when going back to a story she told before she truly knew the magical rules when she first wrote about them.

This backstory about Sally and Gillian’s aunts Franny and Bridget (AKA “Jet”) focuses on a theme about life’s curses and blessings and what individuals wish to make of the fate and destiny they are given. Early on, Franny and Jet’s mother asks the sisters whether they’re opting for courage or caution in their unfolding lives. Their answers make for a cohesive story. Clearly, Alice Hoffman opted for courage when she traveled back to 1995 to continue the story of the Owens family.

The book contains wonderful surprises, making it much deeper than a family tree tacked on to the front of a famous novel many years later. The book offers its own multiple levels of depth and angst and joy while changing in positive ways the way many of us who read it will view the characters and themes of the original novel. (Emerging writers considering magical realism as a potential genre for their work will find both novels to be a demonstration of how an author can utilize magic and realism seamlessly in novels set in today’s world.”

While the ending of “The Rules of Magic” represents the best of all possible worlds for the two novels and their characters, turning the last page might be depressing for some readers. The reason is simply this: nobody wants the story to end because when it comes down to it, we need these characters, their joys and sorrows, and their magic in our lives.

View all my reviews

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Autumn Price List for My Kindle Books

Prices on the following books have been reduced in time for the vast amount of shopping you plan to do for the holidays.

  • Eulalie and Washerwoman (novel) – $2.99 – conjure, crime, and magic in Florida
  • The Sun Singer (novel) – $1.99 – contemporary fantasy in the Montana mountains
  • Mountain Song (novel) – $1.99 – realism with a splash of magic in the Montana mountains
  • At Sea (novel) $1.99 – realism with a splash of magic on an aircraft carrier in the Vietnam War
  • “Waking Plain” (short story) $0.99 a very fractured fairy tale

Happy shopping!

–Malcolm

To learn more about my books, please visit my website.

Sacred Earth, Spiritual Journeys

“Indigenous nations and peoples believe in the spiritual powers of the universe. We believe in the ultimate power and authority of a limitless energy beyond our comprehension. We believe in the order of the universe. We believe in the laws of creation and that all life is bound by these same natural laws. We call this essence the spirit of life. This is what gives the world the energy to create and procreate, and becomes the ponderous and powerful law of regeneration—the law of the seed.” – Oren Lyons.

View outside my living room window.

View outside my living room window.

When I look out the window and see the land, it’s much easier for me to believe in a sacred earth and the kinds of spiritual journeys that occur there than it is when I look at the Internet, the television set or a traffic jam on a city street.

I’ve had the same feelings in Apalachicola National Forest, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley and along the California coast at Pt. Reyes.

As the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories, I can “get away with” suggesting that the land is sentient and that the animals one meets on the trail or sees above the mountain tops are wise and have lessons to teach us. Why? Because readers within my genre aren’t surprised by that view.

With most of the U.S. population living in cities, I wonder if those who live there long for the land as it’s shown them in spiritual ecology books and fantasy novels; or is there such a big disconnect between the land and daily life in the city, that environmental issues, spiritual journeys, and all the “Earth in peril” causes we hear about on the news or see on Facebook don’t seem real at all–outside of the novel on the nightstand.

Lake McDonald - NPS Glacier Park photo

Lake McDonald – NPS Glacier Park photo

I have no trouble writing fantasy that shows the Earth as alive because, whether it’s old childhood superstitions that grew out of so many days and nights spend camping, fishing and hiking or whether it’s wishful thinking, I see the land the way I write about it in my fiction.

I think it helps an author to not only have a passion for the themes in his/her storytelling, but to literally believe they’re true. When one believes, one tends to see a lot of things in nature (and elsewhere) that others do not see. Perhaps it’s an illusion or a tired hiker’s hallucination; I can’t say for sure. But it seems real, real enough to believe in.

Perhaps you have other passions. If you write stories and poems, create art, compose or sing songs, or work as a photographer, those passions and beliefs probably impact your work, making it more vibrant, believable and transcendent to those who see it or hear it. They may ask you where you get your ideas and you may tell them that within your belief system and your own journey, the ideas behind your work are quite natural.

In folk magic, everything is alive and interacts with people in their daily lives.

“Where do you get your ideas” is such a standard question authors hear, we’re often flippant about it and make up absurd answers because, frankly, we’re tired of the question and tired of trying to concretely say where those ideas come from. When we’re not being flippant, we say those ideas are part of our lives and so they’re echoed in everything we do.

For me, it’s a sacred Earth and a spiritual journey. Whatever your life and your passions are about, your art is going to reflect that if it’s honest art.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels” in 2015.