This and that for avid readers

Even though July 30th was yesterday, this selection of posts about magical realism is still available. If you love the genre, you’ll find some fascinating ideas.


New from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Transformed, a Kindle short story by Smoky Zeidel.  “The way I see it,” said Daniel, “the fence lizard eats the fly, so the fly becomes part of the fence lizard. The fly is the fence lizard. The fence lizard gets eaten by the snake, and thus becomes the snake. What’s to say that snake won’t get snatched up by a Golden Eagle, and thus become the eagle?” Does the same principle apply to humans? Marina is about to find out.

Thank you to all the readers who participated in the recent sweepstakes for Emily’s Stories on Audio Book Reviewer. Kelley Hazen and I are glad you stopped by and signed up. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to those of you who have already posted reviews.

Here’s a copy of my Amazon review for Don Westenhaver’s mystery thriller Missing Star

This post WWI thriller mixes historical and fictional characters in a fast-paced search for a missing actress (Joyce) in the very different Los Angeles of another era. The ambiance and history anchor the story which pits ex-marine aviator (Danny) and against the seedy unknowns of the big city where overlapping police jurisdictions and the corrupt politics of prohibition make it easy for many crimes to fall through the cracks.

Danny is determined to find Joyce in spite of impossible odds, and this makes him a believable and determined main character. Inasmuch as missing persons cases typically includes gaps of time when no new information is found, the story takes a few side trips that, while relevant, slow down the pacing a bit. It also doesn’t seem likely that Danny, as a civilian, would be included in police actions. Otherwise, the story moves well with a high degree of credibility toward a satisfying conclusion. Readers will feel anger over Joyce’s circumstances and respect for Danny’s perseverance, and cannot help but hope that they find each other again and make the bad guys pay for what they’ve done.


Recently released from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Tizita, a new novel by Sharon Heath: “Physics wunderkind Fleur Robins, just a little odd and more familiar with multiple universes than complicated affairs of the heart, is cast adrift when her project to address the climate crisis is stalled. Worse still, her Ethiopian-born fiancé Assefa takes off right after her 21st birthday party to track down his father, who’s gone missing investigating Ethiopian claims to the Ark of the Covenant. Fleur is left to contend with the puzzle of parallel worlds, an awkward admirer, and her best friend Sammie’s entanglement with an abusive boyfriend. Assefa’s reconnection with a childhood sweetheart leads Fleur to seek consolation at Jane Goodall’s Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve, but it’s through a bumbling encounter with her rival that the many worlds of Fleur’s life begin to come together. In the experience of tizita—the interplay of memory, loss, and longing—Fleur is flung into conflicts between science and religion, race and privilege, climate danger and denial, sex and love. With humor, whimsy, and the clumsiness and grace of innocence, Fleur feels her way through the narrow alleyway between hope and despair to her heart’s sweetest home.”

New, from Theodora Goss, my favorite review book for 2017, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. See my review here. From the publisher: “Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders and the bigger mystery of their own origins. Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes. But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism books set in Florida.








Review: ‘The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's DaughterThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine “monsters” from science fiction and horror classics written by H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Lewis Stevenson working together with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade to track down the killers in a string of gory London murders.

Odds are, the resulting story would be a chaotic, unbelievable mess. Or, if the muses were kind and the odds were defied, the resulting story would be a breathtaking and expertly plotted Victorian-era fantasy in which the plots, characters and themes of fictional legends fit together in a believable, wondrous harmony.

Theodora Goss’ muses were kind.

The protagonists of legend believed they could create evolved humans out of bits and pieces of the dead. They failed. The evil scientists in Goss’ story have similar ideas. “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” has been assembled from the remains of its legendary predecessors, yet unlike the “monsters” of yore, it is strikingly beautiful, functions elegantly with the well-focused skills of its creator, and contains a radiant soul.

Readers familiar with the original stories will enjoy references to even the smallest of details. For everyone else, no footnotes are required because the story stands on its own.

The plot is complicated and compelling and the pace is rapid and perfectly synchronized with a dash of humor. As a writer, I wonder how Goss created a novel that is better than the works from which it takes it themes. I suspect her precision as a poet and short story writer, her love of fairy tales and folklore, and her long-term research into the “monsters” of literature are factors. But those factors are only bits and pieces of the author’s craft, imagination and creative spirit.

Rather than analyse how Goss turned an accident waiting to happen into one of the best novels of the year, I’m willing to write it off and say: “It must be magic.”

View all my reviews


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, folklore and magical realism short stories and novels.

Your authentic author’s voice is who you are

“When you engage in a work that taps your talent and fuels your passion — that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet — therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.” – Stephen Covey, quoted in Terri Windling’s blog

“Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.” – James Hillman, in “The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling”

“In short, every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf, in “Orlando”

booksartIn school, we are taught to emulate the great masters and/or to consider many overlapping recipes for how short stories and novels should be written so that it takes most of us a fair amount of time to discover our “author’s voice,” the mix of style and syntax and word choice that makes our writing “us” and not somebody else.

Editors look for a distinctive author’s voice. Without it, the writing is flat or an imitation of authors the writer likes. Sometimes, an editor can tell who a writer’s favorite author is by reading a page or two out of a submitted manuscript. If an author admires Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, the last thing s/he needs to do is try to write like either of them. At best, we end up with a parody. At worst, we have “false fiction,” that is to say, “Joe Doaks pretending to be Stephen King while writing a novel called ‘Carney Land.'”

The real Joe Doaks and what he might have been gets lost in the shuffle. Perhaps, had he allowed himself time to discover his own true voice and to develop his craft into the art that was possible in the beginning, he might have become a better writer than King. Or just as good as King, but different.

As James Hillman might suggest, Joe Doaks is ignoring his own calling, the themes that are really important to him, and spending his talents on other things.

In her post “Craft and Art,” author and college professor Theodora Goss says that in her creative writing classes, she focuses on the craft of writing. When a student with talent applies himself or herself to the writing craft, Goss says that she can then “point the way to art and say, if you wish, that’s where it is, in that general direction . . .” The same is true, I think, of an author’s voice.

Perhaps an author can hide who s/he is from the novels s/he writes, but it’s a lot of trouble. If we hide, we distort our author’s voice and the flow of intuition running through our consciousness as we write. If we’re not hiding, then it’s quite likely that our world view will lurk between the lines of our fiction even if the fiction is about characters that don’t resemble us in any way.

Most of us learned as children that there was a difference between “Dad telling a story,” “Mother telling a story” and “Grandpa telling a story” even when it was the same story. The difference was voice. Dad approached stories like a journalist, Mother like an ever-hopeful teacher, and Grandfather like a farmer who saw life in its most basic form. Their voices turned a potentially flat story into a “story being told by [Dad, Mother, Grandpa].”

We are, I think, drawn back to our favorite authors over and over again because we not only like their plots and characters, but the way they tell their stories. Of course, this factor in the public’s purchase of books makes it hard for young writers to get started. We saw an example of this in the recent revelation that Robert Galbraith (“The Cuckoo’s  Calling”) really wasn’t a debut author, but J. K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym. While, reviewers gave “Galbraith” high marks, few people bought the book before they found out Rowling was the author.

To some extent, those purchases are partially celebrity worship. But they also suggest that a fair number of readers like what they’re reading when the book is “Jo Rowling telling a story about ABC or XYZ.” Whether it’s our stories at bedtime, tall tales told around a campfire, or the novels we buy at the local bookstore, we discover that a hard-to-define mix of genre, craft, art and voice draws us to one storyteller more than another.

Starting out, it’s hard to resist the temptation NOT to write like King or Rowling because, after all, the bestseller list is so clearly telling us that is what readers want.  We might even sell our first book because we’ve written a book kind of like King’s “Joyland” or kind of like Rowling’s “The Cuckoo’s Calling.” But that kind of “success” really represents a great loss, the loss of our own author’s voice and our own storytelling passions.

When we follow our intuition and allow our stories to develop naturally as we write them, there’s a lot of ourselves in them even though they’re not about us. Our author’s voice develops and becomes stronger when we admit (to ourselves) “this novel is ‘me telling a story.'” I’m not talking about vanity here, but authenticity.

Or, more simply said, in being himself or herself while writing, an author is engaged in honest storytelling.


My world view, that each person has unlimited potential, is clearly visible in “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” “The Seeker,” and “The Sailor.” I knew no other way to tell these stories.

Only $2.99 on Kindle.

Only $2.99 on Kindle.

Briefly Noted: ‘The Thorn and the Blossom’ by Theodora Goss

When Theodora Goss’ novella The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story was released last year, the book’s imagery, dual stories and unique construction created a bit of a stir. In the story, Evelyn Morgan and Brendan Thorne meet by chance and become lovers after he hands her a copy of a medieval romance.

In her Bookslut review, Colleen Mondor said: “Slipcovered and with an accordion-fold binding, “The Thorn and the Blossom” is designed so it can be flipped and readers may thus enjoy Brendan and Evelyn’s separate perspectives of the same tale. While the publisher’s work is impressive, it is Goss’s handling of the story itself that really blew me away. You do not have to read these perspectives in any particular order; you can start with Brendan or Evelyn and either way you will not ruin critical moments or spoil the ending.”

Publishers Weekly said: “The fantasy elements are light, revolving mostly around Gawan’s story and Evelyn’s visions of fairies and trolls. Overall this makes the tale align more with old-fashioned romance than pure speculative fiction, but Goss’ appealing characters and modern magic atmosphere will continue to attract a following.”

Some reviewers on Amazon liked the unique look of the book, but found the accordion-style presentation difficult to read because the pages easily fell away in long folds. Other authors with two stories to tell in one book have solved this problem by formatting the stories from alternate ends of the book but with standard binding. Needless to say, the issue becomes a non-issue for those reading the e-book version.

Nonetheless, showing the same story from two points of view is an age-old technique that’s been handled in multiple ways, and whenever it appears it adds both drama and depth to the material. Readers naturally feel some stress when they are told it doesn’t matter which account to read first and also when they see that there will be no resolution to the contrasting viewpoints. The depth, aided in part in this case by Goss’ evocative language, comes from understanding that people see events and relationships differently rather than via the single, linear viewpoint commonly used in most fiction. So, the dual stories show us what we often miss in fiction, though we experience it in our lives.

Available in hardcover and e-book, “The Thorn and the Blossom” is likely to enchant lovers of fantasy, romance, and well-told tales.

You May Also Like: The Value of Expecting Synchronicity


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, including the gritty, magical adventure “Sarabande.” His paranormal Kindle short story, “Moonlight and Ghosts” was released last month.

Turning (selected and well-disguised) Secrets into Fiction

While growing up in Florida, my secret story often sounded like old Florida adventure novels.

“A secret story should be yours alone: about who you are, who you want to be. Who you believe yourself to be, under all the social conventions and expectations. Are you secretly a sorceress? A priestess? A charmer of animals or teller of fortunes? Are the trees your friends? There is something wonderful about having a secret identity, something that no one knows about you.” – Theodora Goss in her post “Your Secret Story”

Along with “Where do you get your ideas?” the question people ask me the most is, “How much of each story is true?”

Some of the actual events merged into a short story or novel come from an author’s experiences. For example, my Kindle short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” draws slightly on my experience as a unit manager years ago in a center for the developmentally disabled. Other events in an author’s work come from what author Theodora Goss describes as one’s secret story.

A secret story, often begun in childhood, is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, a lifelong imagination-run-wild romp of the things we fantasize about doing or being. In childhood, many of us imagine being wizards or Knights of the Round Table or Superman.

As we grow older, perhaps we change our story to make it more plausible. These stories can be, but usually aren’t, the same as our dreams and goals. Perhaps they come to mind as an all-in-good fun episode we imagine while we’re falling asleep or mowing the yard. Perhaps they have a deeper impact and become our personal myth.

What ever they are, we seldom tell them to each other. Yet, to a writer, they are so much a part of his/her imagination, selected fragments of them wind up in stories or, in some cases, serve as the catalysts for stories.

I wonder if we become truly happy and/or in a state of bliss when our secret story and our daily life become one. Before that happens, these stories are a great source of ideas for the next novel or short story.

You May Also Like:

  • I have brought back my “Book Bits” writing links posts twice a week on my Sun Singer’s Travels blog. Each post includes 8-10 links for recent book news, reviews, how-to articles and features.
  • The Real Magic of the Unlimited Self tells the story behind the story for my “Moonlight and Ghosts” Kindle short story. (Sometimes the magic is real.)
  • Or, see my website for my latest news.


Contemporary fantasy for your Kindle.