If you’re writing a novel about a slaughterhouse. . .

then you need to tour a slaughterhouse. Or, at least read a lot about slaughterhouses, what happened inside then and what became of the people who worked there. In his essay in “The Writers Chronicle,” Colson Whitehead suggests writing what you don’t know, otherwise, you’ll and up writing the same book over and cover. So, you probably don’t need a slaughterhouse career to craft a novel about them. Frankly, that’s the last place I want to work.

Many things fall into the category of research that makes writers sick. Researching the KKK for my novel in progress fits into that category. And yet, since I never belonged to the KKK, I need to find out what happened in their meetings or my scenes and descriptions won’t be correct. I could say, “who will know?” Well, I would know. So here’s a selection of KKK books you’ll find on Amazon if you go looking. Fortunately, I found what I needed on free sites and didn’t have to buy any of these.

In addition to those, older books have been captured by Google or reside in various libraries and archives. If you look on state-operated photo archives (such as Florida Memory), you’ll find photographs of KKK fliers, pamphlets, parades, and posters. I grew up in an area with an active KKK presence, so I have a sixth sense when it comes to tracking down the filth.

Looking at this shit is about like being forced to eat a food you detest, like turnips, for example. Do you eat the entire crock of turnips in one sitting, do you eat one bite every week smothered in something that disguises the taste, or do you say to hell with the turnips—or the KKK–and give up on your book? I think that historically accurate novels that mention the KKK are important to our understanding of the Jim Crow years of our past and (sadly) to the deluge of white supremacy groups we’re seeing around the country today.

When I was in high school, I got physically ill reading All Quiet on the Western Front. Later, I felt the same way when I read Hiroshima. I wondered how the authors were able to suffer through the facts and put words on the page. Such questions are a consideration, I think, for anyone writing a novel with horrifying sweeps or history and the bad guys responsible for them.

Anger is good motivation, and suffice it to say, I feel plenty of anger about the KKK. I researched the KKK when I wrote the Florida Folk Magic Series. My work-in-progress novel follows up on that trilogy, so that means reading more about the KKK than I want to know. You might find yourself in a similarly uncomfortable research situation. if you decide to write a novel about the prison at Guantanimo, the rape culture, terrorist attacks, or even a tour of duty in the House of Representatives.

When it comes down to it, you have to learn about it before you can write about it.

Malcolm

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author to return after 16-year gap  

Sixteen years after readers were introduced to the magical world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke is to publish her second novel.

Out in September next year, Clarke’s Piranesi will follow the story of its eponymous hero, who lives in the House, a building with “hundreds if not thousands of rooms and corridors, imprisoning an ocean. A watery labyrinth.” Occasionally, he sees his friend, The Other, who is doing scientific research into “A Great and Secret Knowledge”.

Source: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author to return after 16-year gap | Books | The Guardian

I liked  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell along with a related ser of short stories. Now, finally, Clarke is releasing a new novel. But it’s a year away. How cruel. Get everyone excited and then make them wait.

She writes slower than Donna Tartt who’s released three novels since 1992. Both of them seem to be following the old-style approach to writing, taking a while to write each book rather than churning out Two or three novels a year like many novelists do these days.

I’ll be looking forward to this one.

Malcolm

My Glacier National Park novel “Mountain Song” is free on Kindle through October 1.

Thinking book covers

This is one of the cover pictures I use on my Facebook author’s page. It’s a handy way of showing all the covers in my Florida Folk Magic Series together.

While the book cover is often the last thing an author thinks about, it’s the first thing a prospective reader sees. Some say a reader decides in 15 seconds whether to look inside the book at a physical book store or via the look inside features on book pages at Amazon and B&N. However, as I write I can usually see my characters and their environment quite clearly; it’s almost as though I’m looking at them in a photograph.

So, I’m lucky that my publisher Thomas-Jacob works with authors to come up with the cover art. In this case, we used two artists. The first did Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman; then, when he wasn’t available to do the cover for Lena, we found another great artist who was willing to work in the style we needed to make all three books look like they belonged together.

Thoughts behind the cover: The book is set in another era, the 1950s. So, we have an unpaved road through the piney woods. Eulalie, the conjure woman, wore a dress and a hat (unlike the jeans and tee shirts people wear today) when she rode her bike into town to sell stuff out of her garden at the mercantile. Her kitty, Lena, would either side in basket or trot alongside. The railroad tracks figure into the story.

The style of the art tells you these stories are magical in that there’s something ethereal the scenes: the radiance in the first book, the spooky nighttime in the second, and the sudden appearance of an alligator in the road in the third one. The mood here would be quite different if we had tried to do this cover with a photograph of a similar scene or with stock drawings.

I like spending time on the look and feel of the covers because they set the stage for the story. When I look at the covers of some self-published books on Amazon, I wish the authors had worked a little harder to come up with unique covers instead of using stock photography and a boxy layout. Spending the money for original art or custom photography is money well spent.

Malcolm

 

About ready to re-release an out-of-print book

When I left my previous publisher to become part of Thomas-Jacob Publishing (T-J) in Florida, many of my titles went out of print. I have self-published some of them because I didn’t want to dump a box of titles on T-J. Some of those I have self-published have come out under new names. Some, like The Sun Singer (self-published) and Sarabande (T-J) kept their original titles.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been converting a PDF copy of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire into a DOCX copy of the newly titled Special Investigative Reporter.  The formatting has been tedious since the conversion, using Acrobat, produced a Word file with weird spaces and strange formatting in it.

I think the 2009 novel is still valid inasmuch as it hits on the growing tendency for news sites to mix opinion with facts or, in some cases, to present opinion instead of facts. So, I hope the novel will still be considered relevant by today’s readers.

As a journalism school graduate and former college journalism instructor, I become somewhat irate when an interviewer asks a guest a question and then proceeds to interrupt him/her by doing most of the talking. I can cite examples, but it’s probably safer not to do that. I don’t see that as journalism or even fairly presented opinion.

I grew up in a journalism environment. My father was a journalism textbook author, the dean of a college school of journalism, and active in a variety of press institutes. What I liked best in those days was hearing the stories of veteran journalists either at our house or the journalism school. They captured my imagination. So, I went to journalism school at the University of Colorado and Syracuse University as well as a summer journalism institute at Indiana University.

That means, there’s a lot of info available for a satirical newspaper reporter novel. I’m not sure my late father would approve because Special Investigative Reporter is a bit risque and presumes that many old-style reporters rank too much. My uncle, who was a reporter, might have liked booze a little too much–to my father’s chagrin. So do I, actually.

So, in spite of the tedious process of fixing the PDF-to-DOCX conversion of the novel’s file, I’ve had fun re-visiting a book that originally came out in 2009. I’ll let you know when the new edition come out. I hope you like it.

Malcolm

 

 

BigAl’s Books and Pals Review: ‘The Sun Singer’ by Malcolm R Campbell

This is one of Campbell’s earlier books (first published 2010) and already his gifts for drawing warm characters and laying out a story so it flows towards and immerses the reader are well developed.

Source: BigAl’s Books and Pals: Review: The Sun Singer (Mountain Journeys Book 1) by Malcolm R Campbell

First Edition

Seeing this unexpected review appear on my Facebook news feed this morning makes my week (much more than yesterday’s after-supper lawn mowing), brings back a ton of nostalgia, and makes me wonder once again whether I made a very bad decision pulling it away from the agent who had my typewritten manuscript for the book in the 1980s.

The reviewer mentions that the book was inspired by the mountains of Glacier National Park Montana where I worked two summers as a hotel bellman. Those of you who have read my blogs for years also know that it was also inspired by a famous statue called “The Sun Singer” which I saw at Allerton Park, Illinois when I was (I think) in junior high school.

The novel is a bit earlier than the reviewer knows. I wrote it in the 1980s, got it accepted by a small but influential agent, and then waited for almost a year with no word. She liked the novel, but her small agency had also taken on a novel that turned out to be as huge then as The Game of Thrones is now. (I refuse to mention the title of the book or its sequels.) She said my wait would be an even longer one, so I took the manuscript back.

Was that a mistake? I guess I’ll never know. She might have found a publisher when she finally got around to actively shopping it, or she might not. The fact that an agent liked it led me to believe I could find a publisher who liked it. That took 24 years. I was gratified by the fact the book’s 2004 first edition was a “Foreword Reviews” book-of-the-year finalist but less than pleased that my publisher was iUniverse, a vanity press. But I would always wonder if the book might have received a wider audience in less time if I’d left it with that agent.

Current Edition

Later, several small traditional publishers wanted it, and this led to the 2010 edition. That publisher and I ultimately had a contractual disagreement, and that led to the current (2015) Kindle edition.

It’s interesting to me that several passages in the novel that happened more or less simultaneously were typeset by iUniverse in side-by-side columns. Nobody else has been able to do that since, including several other prospective publishers. I grew up in a letterpress-evolving-to-offset printing world where those columns wouldn’t have been a problem. “Progress” into a print-on-demand/Kindle world has taken away an option for small-press authors.

Nonetheless, this weird history of the novel doesn’t take away my gratitude that a reviewer found and liked the book after all these years. With a bit of luck, maybe my first novel will find a few more readers.

Malcolm

 

 

All that inspiration for just a few dollars

When I walk out of a theater after watching a wonderful movie where good and love triumph, I feel inspired. Perhaps it’s simply the story, whether derring-do or comedy or noir. Or music. Or the cinematography. Often it’s the acting. When I was young, I’d walk down the street after seeing such a movie and think I can do those things. I’d imagine myself beating up the bad guys, taking a hill with a company of marines, finding the magic in the secret cave.

Now I walk out of such movies thinking that I can do my things, whatever my goals may be.

I feel that way when I finish well-written books. Somehow the book or the movie works as a spell and unlocks dreams and abilities and willpower I didn’t know I had. (Or that had gone dormant.) Sometimes they work more like a confidence potion or maybe an angel’s gift. At some level, I suppose, it’s all just a fantasy. There are times, though, when I see differences in my life. Usually, an infusion of energy or a renewed devotion to a long-time project.

I often wonder how many others feel this way after seeing a movie or reading a book. Reading gurus have many theories about the impact of a good story. I don’t have any theories that I know of because having them seems to jinx the whole business. If your theory is that watching a certain movie or reading a certain book is going to turn you into a god or an avatar, then forget it. But, if you don’t think that, you may well be transformed.

As I read this week about a religious pilgrimage that occurred many years ago in the kingdom of Sikkim (now part of India) I find myself thinking more positively about myself and the world than usual even though I have no desire to go there and follow the seeker’s paths. For one thing, I don’t have the patience to spend hours in meditation. I never have. I know I should do it, but I don’t. All that seems so cumbersome to me. But reading about the journey and the seeker’s devotion seems to change me for the better.

And, the book and the movie only cost a few dollars. What a bargain!

Subconsciously, maybe all of us know that in addition to the escapist fun of reading a great novel or seeing a wonderful movie, we will be changed for the better by the experience. I read for the fun of it, not as a spiritual practice. But when I put the book down, I realize I’m a different person than the one who picked up the book.

Perhaps this happens to you as well.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Widely Scattered Ghosts,” a new collection of short stories from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

 

Amazon Giveaway Ends in Three Days

I’m running a giveaway on Amazon for my three-novels-in-one Kindle book called Florida Folk Magic Stories. The e-book edition includes Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena.

Click on the graphic to enter.

The giveaway, which has three Kindle copies available, ends on October 30th.

For reasons I don’t understand, Amazon has made their giveaways less user-friendly. First, they got rid of the sweepstakes option which awarded all the prizes at the end of the giveaway (which the author controlled). Next, they hard-coded the lucky number to something way too high for small-press authors. The author used to be able to control this, e.g., saying that every 10th entrant or every 20th entrant won a copy. Now, Amazon has set that lucky number at 400. That’s sad because the giveaway will probably expire before I can award all the available copies.

But, as they say, if you don’t enter, you can’t win. And, it costs nothing to enter.

Oh, and if you’re a GoodReads member, I’m hosting a giveaway there for one paperback copy of Lena. It will start at 12:00am PT on Monday, October 29 and finish at 11:59pm PT on Saturday, November 10.

–Malcolm

What are authors doing when they’re not writing?

Here’s your multiple guess response:

  1. Drinking
  2. Researching something that may or may not help with the next book
  3. Considering a job in the real estate business–or, basically anything other than writing
  4. Reading another author’s books as an excuse for not writing
  5. Studying potential marketing plans in hopes of competing with James Patterson and Catherine Coulter (haha)
  6. Spending more money on a new website that costs more than his or her books are likely to earn
  7. We’re always writing even if we’re not actually writing

I guess all of the above are true. Yesterday afternnoon, my wife and I went down to Duluth, Georgia to the Southeastern Railway Museum’s celebration of its move to a new site some twenty years ago. We had fun seeing a museum we hadn’t been do in a very long time. We moved away (twice) and volunteering there was no longer possible.

Funny thing is, we wandered into the museum because I was doing research on railways for a book. We got trapped. We became volunteers. We worked our butts off for about ten years there. It’s easy to become derailed when you’re doing research.

Yes, I did write the book.

But for quite a few years, the museum was a passion because both my wife and I loved history.

As you may have heard, everything a writer experiences might end up in the next book. (I usually change the names to protect the guilty.)  If you think one of the characters in one of my books, you’re right, it might be you. But here’s the thing: everything we see when we’re not sitting at a keyboard might become part of the next story. Figuratively speaking, we’re always writing.

We see our lives as a series of stories, Sometimes I write them down and they become novels. Like most authors, I don’t make any money doing that because very few authors in the U.S. actually make any money. But, we’re addicted to writing when we aren’t drinking.

–Malcolm

My latest novel is called “Lena” and takes place in north Florida when the KKK was still a real problem. 

 

 

 

Late August Book Promotions

Two books are free, one novel and one short story. Another novel is being featured in an Amazon giveway.

  • The Sun Singer, a novel, free 8/26 through 8/30. – Robert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see. When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help. On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.
  • Conjure Woman’s Cat, a novel, enter the Amazon giveaway for a chance to win a free Kindle copy  – Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group. A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds their worlds firmly apart. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores its own brand of order. When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.” But Eulalie has secrets of her own, and it’s hard not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.
  • The Lady of the Blue Hour, a short story, free 8/26 through 8/30 – When Kenneth arrives home from a high school band trip with exciting news, he finds the house empty. His parents appear to have gone to a hospital in a hurry. At twilight, a strange woman appears on the street, and she might be looking for him. No doubt, there’s magic afoot. As a member of my junior high school and high school bands, I rode on a band bus similar to the one in this magical realism story. And yes, the girl who sat next to me on the bus was the very one I had a crush on, thought I don’t think she knew.

Enjoy the stories!

–Malcolm

When the muses outdo themselves: Favorite passages from books

Sometimes sentence or paragraph in a novel stops me in my tracks because it’s perfect, perfectly beautiful, dangerously apt, and it flows from word to word like birds or gods singing. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy: It was growing dark on this long southern evening, and suddenly, at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils. Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold….The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, he depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself in the long westward slide, it was the old dance of days in the Carolina marshes, the breathtaking death of days before the eyes of children, until the sun vanished, its final signature a ribbon of bullion strung across the tops of water oaks.
  2. Sunset Song in the Scots Quair trilogy by Lewis Grassic GibbonSo that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrisses there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies. You saw their faces in firelight, father’s and mother’s and the neighbours’, before the lamps lit up, tired and kind, faces dear and close to you, you wanted the words they’d known and used, forgotten in the far-off youngness of their lives, Scots words to tell to your heart, how they wrung it and held it, the toil of their days and unendingly their fight. And the next minute that passed from you, you were English, back to the English words so sharp and clean and true–for a while, for a while, till they slid so smooth from your throat you knew they could never say anything that was worth the saying at all.
  3. The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternSomeone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that… there are many kinds of magic, after all.
  4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónEvery book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. And also this: Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.
  5. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy: They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.

You probably have some favorite lines as well, lines you might even copy on to scraps of paper to be hidden away in your wallet or purse for those moment when you need to prove again to yourself that there is still hope for the world.

Malcolm