News. An Epic Week for the Books Desk – “We talked to Pamela Paul, the editor of The Book Review, and Andrew LaVallee, a deputy editor on the Books desk, about how they’ve been preparing for the big week, the impact of the pandemic on the publishing world and what titles they’re keeping on their own night stands.” (The New York Times)
Feature.Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions may finally be published by Alison Flood- “It is the great white whale of science fiction: an anthology of stories by some of the genre’s greatest names, collected in the early 1970s by Harlan Ellison yet mysteriously never published. But almost 50 years after it was first announced, The Last Dangerous Visions is finally set to see the light of day.” (The Guardian)
Interview. What Makes a Great American Essay? by Phillip Lopate – “Talking to Phillip Lopate About Thwarted Expectations, Emerson, and the 21st-Century Essay Boom.” (Literary Hub)
Upcoming Title: New Fiction from Robert Hays – “When faced with the end, how does one reconcile the pieces of an ordinary life? Does a man have the right to wish for wings to carry him to a summit he believes he doesn’t deserve to reach?” (Thomas-Jacob Publishing)
News: “The New York Times reports on the ongoing bidding over Simon & Schuster, which was put up for sale by its parent company, ViacomCBS, early this year. Penguin Random House and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, are considered leading bidders.” (Poets & Writers)
Point of View: Wikipedia, “Jeopardy!,” and the Fate of the Fact by Louis Menand – “Is it still cool to memorize a lot of stuff? Is there even a reason to memorize anything? Having a lot of information in your head was maybe never cool in the sexy-cool sense, more in the geeky-cool or class-brainiac sense. But people respected the ability to rattle off the names of all the state capitals, or to recite the periodic table. It was like the ability to dunk, or to play the piano by ear—something the average person can’t do. It was a harmless show of superiority, and it gave people a kind of species pride.” (New Yorker)
News: Patterson Was Decade’s Bestselling Author by Jim Milliot – “From 2010 to 2019, James Patterson sold 84 million units across print and e-book formats, making him the past decade’s bestselling author at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Patterson’s sales total was double that of Dr. Seuss, and more than those of Stephen King, David Baldacci, and John Grisham combined, BookScan said.” (Publishers Weekly)
Book Bits used to be compiled randomly but now appears to be compiled sporadically by author Malcolm R. Campbell.
When a small-press or self-published author announces a new book on Facebook, s/he has a reason for posting information about it. When early reviews come in, there’s an opportunity for more posts. So, too, later on if the book is a finalist or a winner in a competition. Giveaways and book sales also help get the word out.
But once a book is several novels or poetry collections into the past, it becomes more difficult to think of relevant things to say that don’t sound like SPAM.
My publisher, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, has helped fix that problem by creating Facebook cover pictures that display all of an author’s titles. Sometimes the book covers are arranged with an interesting background; sometimes they appear on shelves. These covers can sit at the top of an author’s profile or page for weeks or months, keeping previous titles in the public eye during times when there’s no legitimate news to post about the older titles. Or, as in Melinda Clayton’s cover photo, you can use a quotation from an earlier book.
Here’s the batch for the holidays for Malcolm R. Campbell, Smoky Zeidel, Robert Hays, Sharon Heath, and Melinda Clayton:
Like the hash browns at Waffle House, my thoughts are often scattered and smothered.
Today’s rain and seriously cloudy skies have impacted the light. The inside of the house is darker than it should be at 3:30 p.m. I start wondering if I missed dinner. The cats are certain they missed dinner. Plus, it feels colder in the house even if the thermostat in the hall tells me it really isn’t.
A writer friend on Facebook typically asks what we’re reading during the weekend. For weeks, I was re-reading Les Misérables. I ended up with a standard reply to her post, “Yep, still reading Victor Hugo.” Now, it’s “Yep, still reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.” It’s over 900 pages and, while fascinating, it’s not a beach read. I’m a little embarrassed by the fact the book has been out so long and I’m just now reading it. I saw the 2012 film first, and started thinking about the book. Ended up getting it as a Christmas gift.
I wonder if anyone reads history books any more. Well, I suppose they do, or publishers wouldn’t keep releasing them. Yet, as with my review of American Trinity, the response here and on Facebook is always slim to none. In a way, that’s kind of sad, for I see so many heated political arguments on line, I begin to think people believe the world was born the day they were born. Their flip solutions to today’s problems make it obvious they haven’t read about what led up to the world as it is now.
I’m happy to see that my friend and colleague at Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Smoky Zeidel, is coming out with a new book of poems. I think the release date is March 1. I’ve been so slow writing the third volume in my Florida Folk Magic series (Lena) that it helps seeing that Smoky, and Robert Hays (A Shallow River of Mercy), have been more focused than I have been during the rainy winter months.
Okay, I’ve dawdled around with this post for so long that the cats’ dinner time has now arrived. This means they’ve stopped standing on my desk trying to suggest that I’ve forgotten something.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook (and if you’re not, you should be), know that my wife makes lots of quilts and that I watch old movies in the sewing room (along with the cats) while she’s at her 1949 Singer sewing machine creating works of art out of fabric. I’ve been referring to these movies as our “quilting movies.” We just finished “Sweet Bird of Youth” (happier than the play–if it’s possible for anything by Tennessee Williams to be cheery), and have now moved on to one of those “it’s a real hoot” movies, “Libeled Lady.” Wikipedia refers to it as “a 1936 screwball comedy film starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy.” And it is seriously screwball.
And on a more mundane note, what with it being dark and rainy and not yet time to watch the rest of the Jean Harlow movie, I think I’ll go fix comfort food for dinner: Mac & Cheese. And, no, I don’t make it from scratch like my mother did.
I hope you’re having a great weekend, reading important books, finding the impossible dream, saving the world, &c.
For your consideration when you’re looking for something to read:
Mountain Song is free on Kindle December 2 and 3:David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?
Quotation: “After a while, the characters I’m writing begin to feel real to me. That’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction.” – Alice Hoffman
A Shallow River of Mercy, a new title from Robert Hays, released December 1 by Thomas-Jacob Publishing: Ernst Kohl has spent nearly half his life in prison after being convicted of murder as a young man. Upon his release, with nowhere else to go, Kohl returns to his old family home on the outskirts of a small Michigan town, hoping for redemption, or at least understanding. He finds a dog, a girlfriend, and a job in quick succession, and it seems as if he might finally be able to leave the past behind and make a quiet life for himself. But some of the residents, including the town’s corrupt deputy sheriff, are less than thrilled to see him, and will stop at nothing to rid the town of its infamous resident. As events hurtle to an inevitable conclusion, Kohl is left to decide: At what point might a man break, and at what cost to himself?
Thanksgiving: I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving or–if needed–survived the relatives. We enjoyed a nice visit with my brother and his wife who drove up from Florida, shared wine and food and a thousand-piece puzzle, and provided a lot of great conversation. The lights and wreath went up (not by themselves) on the front door today while inside we’re wrapping gifts to hand over to the post office, hopefully for delivery.
I’m slowly working on a new novel called Lena as a sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. For reasons that might become apparent once it’s published, you’ll see why I’m moving so slowly on it. It begins like this: “So, Eulalie sang ‘Lady Luck Blues’ as she drove the 1949 clover green Studebaker pickup truck down that southbound road while creeks, wiregrass, longleaf pines, and sunny autumn afternoon savannahs slow-drag danced past the open windows and South Wind’s children teased her hair into sweet disorder. She was happy and heading for Willie Tate down in Carrabelle.” Unfortunately for Eulalie, the happiness isn’t going to last.
I rely on a lot of books and websites for source material about conjure. Unfortunately, Spiritual Information–featuring Voodoo Queen–will no longer have new posts. The author, who is older than I am, has become too ill to continue, and wants to retire after she finishes healing. The good news is that her blog will remain online as a reference. There’s a handy index of topics on the left side of the screen. A quick glance at this list will show you how wonderful this blog has been for those who want to learn more about the oldest hoodoo traditions from days gone by.
I appreciate the support of those of you who also followed my other blog “The Sun Singer’s Travels.” In trying to simplify (whatever that means), I’ve closed that blog. It was my oldest, having started on Blogger many years ago, subsequently moving here to WordPress. I’ll try to keep you up to date on this blog as well as my website.
This has nothing to do with writing, but my friend and Thomas-Jacob colleague Smoky Zeidel, who lives in a southern California desert community, has been posting glorious pictures of her vegetable garden on Facebook. I’m jealous. My tomatoes, banana peppers and jalapenos finally bit the dust with our cooler temperatures. I still have some hardy oregano and parsley. If you’re taking notes, the oregano and parsley won’t be on the test.
Few of the eccentric inhabitants of her father’s Main Line, Philadelphia estate have much time for Fleur Robins, an awkward child with a devotion to her ailing grandfather, a penchant for flapping and whirling, and a preoccupation with God and the void. While her mother spends much of her time with her hand curled around a wine glass and her abusive father congratulates himself for rescuing babies from “the devil abortionists,” Fleur mourns the fallen petals of a rose and savors the patterns of light rippling across the pool. When she fails to save a baby bird abandoned in her garden, a series of events unfold that change everything.
Billy May Platte is a half Irish, half Cherokee Appalachian woman who learned the hard way that 1940s West Virginia was no place to be different. As Billy May explains, “We was sheltered in them hills. We didn’t know much of nothin’ about life outside of them mountains. I did not know the word lesbian; to us, gay meant havin’ fun and queer meant somethin’ strange.”
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.
In 1955, at the height of alarm over the Emmett Till murder in Mississippi and after the Supreme Court ruling against school segregation, Associated Press reporter Rachel Feigen travels from Baltimore to Tennessee to report on a missing person case. Guy Saillot’s last contact with his family was a postcard from the Tennessee Bend Motel, a seedy establishment situated on beautiful Cherokee Lake. But they have no record he was ever a guest.
When we use traditional collective nouns for groups of animals, we speak of a congregation of alligators, a colony of ants, a swarm of bees, a herd of buffalo, a clutter of cats, a murder of crows, a pod of dolphins, a flock of geese, a charm of hummingbirds and a pandemonium of parrots.
Humorous collective nouns have been suggested for writers, including an absurdity of, an allegory of, a gallery of and scribble of. Some of the funnier suggestions are less than flattering. When I was interviewed for a regional magazine along with other authors from the county, the article was titled “A Truck Load of Authors.” We were all packed into a vintage pickup truck, a picture was taken, and the magazine had a great illustration.
Since I had no viable way of getting all the authors together who have appeared on this blog directly through guests posts and interviews or indirectly through reviews together and posing them on a raft, railcar or a team of wild horses, I’ve settled for the word “batch.”
The Batch at Malcolm’s Round Table
If this blog has a niche–or a partial niche–it’s books and writers. Since I read a lot, the batch of writers here has included a lot of reviews. Some of those were BIG PUBLISHING BESTSELLERS but most were not.
So yes, I reviewed Dan Brown’s Inferno and talked about Donna Tarrt’s The Goldfinch. I liked The Night Circus, The Tiger’s Wife, and Long Man a lot and you probably heard about those more than once. Of course I talked about my own books but, well, that’s because I can’t help it and I try not to go on and on about them even though I might be going on and on anyway.
But, to move on. . .
However, it was much more fun talking (in reviews or notes) about books by some wonderful authors you weren’t hearing about everywhere else, L. S. Bassen, Seth Mullins and Smoky Zeidel (who has a new edition coming out soon).
Guest Posts and Interviews
When an author has delved deeply into a subject while researching a book, it’s fun to have them to stop by and do a guest post. The most unusual guest post was author Dianne K. Salerni’s (“We Hear the Dead,” “The Caged Graves”) Mortsafes: Protection FROM the Dead or FOR the Dead? Spooky stuff.
Interviews are something special because even though they are conducted via e-mail, my guests and I try to make they read very much like conversations.
Most recently, Marietta Rodgers stopped by to talk about her debut book The Bill. Laura Cowan has been here twice, most recently to talk about her magical Music of Sacred Lakes. Nora Caron, a Canadian author lured into Mexico and the American southwest has written a wonderful trilogy that includes New Dimensions of Being. Melinda Clayton, a psychologist who’s now focusing her observational skills on fictional characters spoke about her novel Blessed Are the Wholly Broken. Two audio book narrators, R. Scott Adams and Kelley Hazen stopped by do tell me how they do what they do. Adams brought his talents as a dialects specialist to my novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. Hazen brought her experience as an actress to narrate my three-story set Emily’s Stories.
Diane Salerni’s research into Mortsafes made for a wonderful book in Caged Graves. Novelist Robert Hays used his background as a journalist and journalism educator to write the well-received nonfiction book Patton’s Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him. Laura Cowan (“The Little Seer”) contributed a close-to-my-heart guest post Speculative Supernatural Novels and the Growing Fantasy Genre. Novelist Pat Bertram (“Light Bringer,” “Daughter I Am”) also wrote the nonfiction Grief the Great Yearning which brings together her experiences with loss in an guest post called The Messy Spiral of Grief. Beth Sorensen (“Crush at Thomas Hall”) wrote a sparkling thriller/romance in her novel Divorcing a Dead Man.
Helen Osterman worked as a nurse for 45 years. During her training, her rotation she witnessed hydrotherapy, Insulin coma therapy and electroshock. Her background served her well when when she turned to fiction writing in Notes in a Mirror. Vila SpiderHawk’sForest Song novels are magical. She stopped by to talk about Finding Home. I thoroughly enjoyed Deborah J. Ledford’s Staccato, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s Dance of the Banished and Rhett DeVane’s Suicide Supper Club.
As you see, memory lane is a long street. It would be even longer if I kept better records, so I’m sure I didn’t find all of my interviews and guest posts. I’m planning to bring you some more new posts in the coming months. I hope you’ll stay tuned and, from time to time, sample the authors’ stories.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat”
Today’s guest post is by Robert Hays (“Blood on the Roses,” “The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris”) who returns to his nonfiction roots with Patton’s Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him. Since my writing career also began, like my father’s and Robert Hays’, in journalism, I wondered how Robert handled the move from fiction to nonfiction for this book.
Returning to Nonfiction
After four novels, I returned to non-fiction for my new book, Patton’s Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him. I love writing fiction—the freedom to create settings and characters, the magic of working with different plots, the fun of trying ideas just to see if they work—but I also find great satisfaction in non-fiction. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a journalist. I loved newspaper reporting and the prospect of offering readers factual information that I consider interesting and important never wears thin.
What’s new for me in Patton’s Oracle is the addition of subjective material to the mix. The book is a biographical memoir, my effort to recount a marvelous four years of friendship and work with Oscar Koch, an unsung hero of World War II who became my personal hero as well.
Oscar Koch was a brilliant intelligence officer who deserves great credit for his behind-the-scenes role in the success of his celebrated commander, Gen. George S. Patton Jr. My military service had been two years as a draftee enlisted man and I had just turned 31 when I met Gen. Koch, who besides having a distinguished military career of almost forty years was well beyond twice my age. Surely the likelihood of us finding things in common was slight. But we live in a world of chance and in this case the unlikely came to pass.
I discovered the general to be a modest, scholarly and charming man. He found no glory in war, and sought none for himself. He was not enthusiastic when I asked to make him the subject of a personality profile article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I believe he consented principally as a favor to me. He was pleased with the article, though, and invited me to collaborate with him on a book that had become his final goal in life.
Gen. Koch was a joy to work with. His book quickly became almost as important to me as it was to him. But shortly after we began, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. From that point forward I knew this was a race against time. We finished the book, G-2: Intelligence for Patton, but Oscar Koch did not survive to see it published. It came out in 1971 and still is in print.
As I summarized this experience in Patton’s Oracle: “I was granted only four years to share life with the general, a period that was far too short. In the beginning he lifted my spirits as we joined in a common purpose. In the end, I endured the anguish of watching an insidious cancer purloin the life from his body even though he never would surrender his gallant spirit. But what a remarkable four years it was, how grateful I am to have had that privilege.”
Patton’s Oracle is my tenth book. But it is the one I’ve wanted for decades to write, timid that I might not do justice to the subject. Even though the words are my own, there are passages that bring tears to my eyes. And of the ten, it is the book that is dearest to my heart.
Essie’s late husband Arthur built her a sturdy house, taking care to place it just right to catch the Spring sunshine. Arthur carefully placed the silver maples and the catalpas to provide many years of perfect summer shade. The trees are grown now. The kids and grandkids are gone, and so is Arthur.
In Robert Hays’ well written and poetic short story “Equinox,” Essie and Plato follow long-established rhythms throughout the changing seasons, and that’s a comfort, for after their long years together, a schedule of sleeping, waking, meals and the daily arrival of the mailman anchors her life.
She had expected Arthur to be her anchor until he was killed in a coal mining accident years ago. He approached his job in the dark mine with same care and deliberation as he approached the construction of their house in the sunny valley. Like the house and the marriage, it was supposed to last.
This year, Winter has seemed permanent, closing her up inside the house with snow and ice. Essie broods about all that’s been lost and finds brief solace in fantacies about what might have been.
With Plato, she waits for the Spring equinox. It’s one of the few events she can count on, and Essie hopes it will be enough.