Tag Archives: Vanilla Heart Publishing

Dialects Specialist and Actor becomes Storyteller for New Audio Book

R. Scott Adams

R. Scott Adams

Today’s guest is radio and television character and voice actor R. Scott Adams who narrated and produced the new audio edition of my comedy/satire novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. Scott claims—and I have no reason to doubt him—that he “fell out of the womb a natural mimic and began telling jokes and performing skits almost as soon as he could talk – much to the chagrin of his family.” His Seattle company, offering “The Whole World in One Voice,” is called Dialects on Demand.

Malcolm: I liked your approach to the narration of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire because it brought out the attitudes and eccentricities of each of the characters. With your focus on voices and dialects, do you automatically “hear” the characters in novels whenever you read a book for pleasure at the end of a  busy day?

Scott:  Hi, Malcolm, thanks for having me here today to interview. Yes, when I read, I rapidly come up with a voice in my head for each of the recurring characters. I usually don’t have one when I start off a book, but as their personality or primary character traits appear, their voices start coming to me and before I know it, I am hearing each specific voice in my head as I read their dialogue.

I think that ability does make it easier for me to come up with the appropriate voice for characters that I am performing. For instance, your character Coral Snake Smith struck me as someone who has a high SOFaudioopinion of himself and talks down to Jock. From Jock’s point of view, Smith is useful, though kind of disgusting. How to combine that? Give him a somewhat self-righteous, “better than thou” voice, but make it unpleasantly high and nasally.

Malcolm: As Jock would say about Coral Snake Smith, “you got that right!” What led you to add novel narration and production to your work at Dialects on Demand? Was it an intuitive and natural extension of the business or did a muse out of nowhere suddenly present you with the idea?

Scott:  Looking back on it, I consider it the culmination of a number of semi-related events. I love books, and have been a reader since I was a child. I still read voraciously. In my career I worked  in several bookstores, and, among other duties, often wound up reading stories to children in the store and even in local schools as part of the stores’ literacy outreach program. I received a lot of compliments and requests for return performances from the teachers and parents. I found I really enjoyed doing this, and even read mainstream fiction to a couple of my girlfriends, who told me I should do it for a living.

Malcolm: Reading to children is a good way to get into the business. If you can keep their attention, you’re in the groove.

Scott:  Fast forward a few years. I’ve started Dialects on Demand, but it hasn’t occurred to me to focus on reading novels as part of my primary business. A good friend of mine, Laura Holt, told me about a new web site called Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), wherein I could audition for any book on the exchange that drew my attention and was seeking a male narrator. I was immediately drawn to this idea, and after looking over the site and seeing how it worked, began seeking a novel that I liked and felt would be a strong match for my repertoire of voices. I laughed out loud at the opening sentence of “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” so it was a no-brainer to submit my audition for it as soon as I could book time with Ben Shenberger, of Subzero Audio (http://subzeroaudio.com), where I do all of my recording work. I was really excited when I heard back from Kimberlee Williams at Vanilla Heart Publishing, that I had been selected as the voice for “Jock Stewart.”

Malcolm: As I listened to your narration, I thought of the old-time tradition of storytellers traveling from town to town with entertaining stories. How do you achieve the old-style storyteller-spinning-yarns around a campfire effect in audio book production?

Rehearsing as the host of an imaginary talk show.

Rehearsing as the host of an imaginary talk show.

Scott: Thank you for saying, that, Malcolm. I consider that really high praise. The short answer is that, as I narrate a story, I see it unfolding in my head, and it then falls to me to add the inflection and pacing needed to best convey the feel of each scene, as well as that of the characters.

To add a bit more context, my father was a born story-teller, and I apparently inherited the gift. I’ve already mentioned I was a mimic from the get-go; as it happens, I was a raconteur as well. I began adding sound effects and giving characters individual voices any time I told an anecdote when I was still a little boy. I think it was a natural extension of the mimicking, really – I made up the different voices, so shouldn’t I also include the various sounds that set the scene? This ability improved with age and experience to the point where people would let me know my stories made them feel like they were right there in them as they happened. This, of course further encouraged me, so that now I can’t really imagine telling them any other way.

Malcolm: As a writer who majored in radio/television and then strayed over to the dark side of print, I’m fascinated by the ways a narrator approaches an audio book production. When a new book arrives, how do you approach it? Do you have a series of steps you follow for each book before you step into the recording studio?

Scott: Well, you have to keep in mind that this was actually my first audiobook recording. Some things were obvious, but I’ve also learned a number of things the hard way that I am definitely bringing into my process as I prepare for and narrate future books.

The first thing I do is to read the entire novel. I want to know the whole story so I can pace scenes and know where to place the most tension and suchlike. It’s a little bit like thinking about what the background music of each scene should be in a movie. Most people don’t really consciously notice the music, but take it out and the scene comes across very differently. It’s the same here – if I don’t pace things correctly, the book loses something – in a really severe example, it could even fall flat.

I take notes of any questions I have while I’m reading, so once I’ve read it, I’d really like a chance to ask the author any questions I have, though sometimes speaking with the editor will also work fine. For instance, when Kimberlee confirmed my impression that Jock Stewart took place in a small Southern town, it really helped open up my voice repertoire. I grew up in North Alabama – I can do Southern voices and dialects for days.

Malcolm: Those of us who live in the South notice right away whether an accent purportedly from our neck of the woods is Hollywood phoniness or genuine! Alabama is a good place to learn Southern.

Co-hosting a segment for the 2000 Addy Awards in North Alabama.

Co-hosting a segment for the 2000 Addy Awards in North Alabama.

Scott: Once I know the story, basic pacing, and have answers to my questions, I go back through the entire novel again and literally highlight each character with a different color marker. If there’s a scene with a lot of secondary characters in it, I may even write one or two word notes to remind me which voice I’ve assigned each of those minor characters. That latter is of course not needed with the major characters, but for instance, in that one news room scene in “Jock Stewart,” you had over a half dozen background characters – none of whom, if I recall correctly, showed up in the rest of the book. I definitely needed notes for the voices in that one!

Malcolm: In  the studio, how much do you read at a time before your voice needs a rest?

Scott: Usually 45 minutes to an hour. I can stretch an hour out a little, but sixty minutes is my average for a session.

Malcolm: How is the production of an audio book different from, say, a commercial with characters in it or a television or film narration project?

Scott: Most television and radio commercial spots are done in straight single-voice narrative. If two major characters are speaking, you’re generally working with a second voice actor doing the other voice. Either way, in commercials pacing is always important, but time is the critical factor – the spots are set length duration – often thirty seconds, and you have to fit all the words the client wants to include into that short, specific length of time without sounding rushed.

As to film narration, I have only done business film work, no movies, but again, I use a single voice. There the main thing is, again, pacing, but also speaking with the writer or business manager beforehand to ensure I know what should be emphasized versus what is more of a detail.

Malcolm: If the radio dramas of past years ever returned to popularity, would you be one of the first actors in line for a chance to play a role in a modern interpretation of “The War of the Worlds,” “The Lone Ranger” or “The Shadow”?

Scott: Absolutely! Performing characters in animation and/or radio drama would be my dream job. As to the specific broadcasts you mention, I am a huge fan of pulp stories from the 1930’s and 40’s, so “The Shadow” would be perfect, though I’d thoroughly enjoy doing any of those you listed.

Malcolm: Where can fans of your work find you: commercials, films, plays, other audio books?

DialectsLogoScott: I appreciate your asking, but up until “Jock Stewart,” the vast majority of my work was for private companies or small Southern businesses. I’m looking around for some regional theatre here in the South Seattle area, so hopefully I’ll be in a few plays around Puget Sound in upcoming years, but nothing specific at this time. I definitely hope to be found as the narrator on an increasing number of audiobooks, and people who are interested can always reach me through my Dialects on Demand web site.

Malcolm: Is there anything I should have asked you about voices and dialects?

Scott: I’m hoping to get a chance to explore a wider variety of the various accents and dialects that I do in my future work. I had a lot of fun doing all the different Southern voices and dialects in “Jock Stewart,” but I have a lot of breadth across different accents, so doing a book in, say, a series of British dialects or something like that would be great.

Malcolm: Thank you for stopping by Malcolm’s Round Table.

Seeker for promo 1Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of the contemporary fantasy novels “The Seeker” and “The Sailor”

Dialects on Demand

Vanilla Heart Publishing


Kelley Hazen: narrating a book can be ‘quite literally, transcendent’

Kelley Hazen

Kelley Hazen

Today’s guest on Malcolm’s Round Table is Kelley Hazen, an artist who has appeared in multiple stage, screen and television productions. You may have seen her in “Nightingale in a Music Box,” “What Women Want,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She also lectures for the renowned Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, CA.

Recently Kelley founded Storyteller Productions in Southern California with her husband, Bruce Carver. The boutique, state-of-the-art studio offers full recording services featuring intuitive narration. My three-story collection called Emily’s Stories, from Vanilla Heart Publishing, was Storyteller Productions fourth audio book.

Malcolm: When I listened to your narration of “Emily’s Stories,” I was reminded of my childhood when parents and grandparents read my favorite books to me on long, rainy afternoons and before I fell asleep at night. How do you achieve the being-there-with-the-listener effect?

Kelley: We have an amazing microphone – the vintage  Sound Deluxe E49 – we selected that mic because of its perfect union with the timbre of my voice. As an artist and reader of audiobooks, I strive for a  sense of…almost “sitting on the listener’s shoulder,” a quality of being in their heads, in their imaginations – a very intimate experience. I think when you combine that artistic goal with the technical mechanics of the right hardware you  have the opportunity to create that sense of “being there with the listener.”

Malcolm: When you appear on the stage or work as a lecturer at the Griffith Observatory’s planetarium, there’s constant feedback from the audience. Is it difficult to change mindsets and figuratively work in a vacuum with voice-over work and audio book narration?

Kelley: No not at all, it’s actually strangely freeing because quite simply the story’s the thing. There is no hidden agenda, no coughing while I’m trying to make a point.  : ) It’s just me, the mic, the story.

emilyaudibleMalcolm: Can you walk me through what a typical narration project includes beginning with the first time you see the book or printed manuscript through the final production of the audio file? How do you prepare?

Kelley: We’ve usually gotten a feel for the book or the writer by either submitting an audition or pitch for the book, or because we’ve dealt with the publisher or author before. So we’ve either seen excerpts or been able to ascertain some sense of who we are dealing with. We believe that often, if not always, artists (writers/actors/publishers & editors if they do their job fully) have an underlying sense of how they want to be perceived in the world, what message they are sending, how they want to impact the greater good. At Storyteller we try to embody that – after all we are a conduit to get across the message that the writer is trying to convey by gathering these particular words together in this way.

Malcolm: I like that approach. Once you grok the story and its message, what additional preparation do you have?

Kelley: Then we just start breaking it down – a chapter at a time. That’s why it is most helpful when an author can send us the manuscript in electronic form. Although I will say our last two books were old school – regular ‘ol page-turning bound books. And it was a welcome respite from iPad’s and Word docs. But we always need two copies because the engineer, my husband Bruce, follows along as I record to watch for missed or mis-spoken words, but also has his own notations as he works for the editing and clean up. So I take it a chapter at a time – realizing the story, assessing the number of characters and their demands, looking up words I don’t know, learning languages.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Our last two books – I learned fragments of three different languages and multiple dialects for the 25+characters in Petty Magic. For Maria of Agreda: Mystical Lady in Blue, a nonfiction about the life and efforts for canonization of a 17th century cloistered nun, I not only had to go to school to understand the Old World process of becoming a saint, but since the book was almost entirely set in Spain, accurate pronunciations of Kings, Viceroyalty, Popes, cities, mountain ranges, etc. were essential. For Emily’s Stories I found pictures of the birds that became such important characters for Emily and clips on YouTube by avid birders who had recorded the cry of each of these birds. Then when I gave the bird characters voices or imitated their calls, I tried to make it sound as much like that bird in real life as I was able. Also something just as simple as knowing where to take the breath to maintain the understanding of a line as it is read. All this work is done beforehand.

Malcolm: The pine siskin in my story “High Country Painter” thanks you! There’s more pre-narration work involved here than I imagined.

In the Studio

In the Studio

Kelley: Then we go into the studio and begin to record. We have to make sure that I don’t consume too much dairy so there is not too much phlegm to cause constriction in my voice. I have to eat so my stomach doesn’t growl. You would be amazed at what the intimacy of and the quality of these current day mics can pick up. It’s like HD for the ears. We usually record in two hours sessions. We can often do two session a day depending on our schedule. We keep separate files of snippets of new characters when they come along, once I’ve found their voice, so that when we come back to them I can hear how I did it the first time and keep it consistent. Consistency is key for the structure of a good audiobook.

Malcolm: Do you alternate the studio work and the preparation ?

Kelley: Anywhere from two to five chapters are prepped at a time. And during my prep time Bruce begins to edit. He listens to the whole thing all over again watching the book to look for missed words or times when I started again on a section but also any kind of outside noise or mouth noise or popping. He looks at an actual wave of my voice frequency–its in a program called Pro Tools. So he can hear but also see when extraneous sounds are present and cut them out or re EQ them by changing the sound around the errant noise. If I’ve missed anything or there is anything he can’t get out, we have a fix session.

Kelley also narrated "Hunting Heartbreak vy Vanilla Heart author Marie Hampton.

Kelley also narrated “Hunting Heartbreak” by Vanilla Heart author Marie Hampton.

Then he renders the files from a very sophisticated WAV file that is very “lovely dark and deep” to an Mp3 format which is a much smaller file and easier to download, etc. And then we “deliver” the book electronically to the publisher. Usually they have some kind of review process and if they find any mistakes, they write us and tell us, we fix it, send it again. And at some point they sign off and it goes up for sale. But just as important as consistency, there is a point where I must get lost in the story, become enveloped in it and in the world the writer has created. And that is the lift off, the miracle, the joy of it for me.

Malcolm: On your Facebook page, you said narrating a book is almost like living in your own imagination. How does this differ from getting in character and performing in front of a camera or an audience?

Kelley: When I am in front of a camera or an audience I am always aware they are there. That awareness gives me information to shape my performance to be effective. When I am reading in my dark little room behind my heavy sound barrier curtains and walls, I can be transported in my imagination anywhere I want to go, anywhere the authors take me, and no one is looking. I am there – wherever “there” may be. It is very easy to get lost in the moment, to be completely free. It is, quite literally, transcendent.

Malcolm: What led you and Bruce Carver to start a recording studio that includes the production of audio books?

Kelley:   When you try to make a living via your art, all the work you take is not always as fulfilling as you hoped it would be. Particularly for an ‘educated’ artist – I’m an MFA, Florida State/Asolo Conservatory and Bruce is a Masters of Music, Northwestern Univveristy. That sounds very snobbish. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great, fun work when you get it, but also, – well let’s put it this way – I’ve played  about a dozen different moms for TV whose child has been either murdered, raped, kidnapped, abandoned, abused, molested… the list goes on.

Likewise, I lost my dad in 2012 and that is always a big wake up call. Bruce and I at the same time came to the realization we wanted to do work we cared about, we wanted to do work that moved people, that felt important, we wanted to support other artists who were trying to get their voices heard, we wanted to work together, we wanted to hold the reins and we wanted to be able to take our dogs to work. Go to the Dog Blog page on my website. and you can meet Angel and Maggie – our husky and lab/chow that work on every book right beside us. They are Quality control.

Malcolm: I like the great critter pictures. Our three cats are constantly checking up on me while I write, purportedly for quality control purposes. In addition to the audio books, what other projects do you have at Storyteller?

Storyteller's home page backdrop.

Storyteller’s home page backdrop.

Kelley: We are  also very excited that we are about to embark on a new recording angle – audio description. Audio Description has been described as “a  literary art form. ” It’s a type of poetry – a haiku. It provides a verbal version of the visual: the visual is made verbal to convey the visual image that is not fully accessible to a significant segment of the population. These services apply in various multimedia settings including theater, dance, opera, television, video, film, exhibits, museums, educational venues, but also circuses, rodeos ice skating exhibitions and a sporting events.” The 2010 Telecommunications Act, signed into law by President Obama will, in a series of progressive requirements, make audio description a required part of our cultural accessibility. I am attending a conference this week, offered by the American Council for the Blind & the Audio Description Project to learn those skills and Bruce and I would like to make that a part of the services we provide in our studio.

Malcolm: How do coordinate studio work with the ever-shifting demands of the film and television productions in which you appear?

Kelley: Because film and TV are ever-shifting its become a way of life for us. Because our studio is in our house we can ‘go to work’ whenever we want or need to – Middle of the day or middle of the night. But also because our lives are ever-shifting  we decided to pursue our own business in recording for some structure, some calm, some control.

Malcolm: Where will film and television audiences see you next?

Kelley recently told the story of Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano as part of the observatory's "All Space Considered" lecture series.

Kelley recently told the story of Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano as part of the observatory’s “All Space Considered” lecture series.

Kelley: I have a new independent film coming out this fall, BLACKMAIL – very fun, smart, black comedy about truth and consequences. Also a new comedy BOOT THE PIGEON is in production, about dating and the adult male. Bruce will be the signature sound for the upcoming Starz series (pirate prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island) out in Jan 2014, BLACK SAILS. Like us on Facebook at Storytellerproductions and we will keep you up to date on what we are up to.

Malcolm: Thank you for visiting Malcolm’s Round Table, Kelley.

A talk with Scott and Smoky Zeidel, authors of ‘Trails’


scottandsmokyIt’s a pleasure to welcome Smoky and Scott Zeidel to Malcolm’s Round Table to talk about their new book Trails: Short Stories Poetry and Photographs released in paperback and e-book this month by Vanilla Heart Publishing.

Smoky is the author of fiction and nonfiction, including The Storyteller’s Bracelet (2012) and Observations of an Earth Mage, (2010). Her husband Scott, who plays the guitar, teaches music history as an adjunct professor at Mt. San Antonio College in California.

MALCOLM: Trails has been dedicated to the squirrels. Is this the entire family of tree or ground squirrels or a bird-feeder robbing band in your yard?

SCOTT: The squirrels are metaphors for nature. So, to answer your question, the book is dedicated to every type of squirrel in the world, the little bastards.

SMOKY: I started to say, “He doesn’t really mean that last part.” But then, I looked out my studio window, and there’s a pregnant ground squirrel out on the deck, ripping a rug to shreds, to get wool to line her nest, and I think, maybe Scott’s right.

trailsMALCOLM: I’ve had many conflicts with squirrels over the years, usually a difference of opinion about just who the bird feeders are for. Scott, when you write that you once thought everyone remembered their own birth, I thought of people who had either bad vision or better than normal vision and supposed everyone’s eyesight was the same. What has this memory given you that others do not have—long-term vision, connectedness to your family going back in time, insight into the big picture of our incarnation, or something else?

crescentSCOTT: I can’t speak for others, but, like I said, I do remember my birth. Nevertheless, was I instantly awake, instantly aware, at the moment of my birth? On a purely rational level, is this even possible? I think not. On a metaphysical level, when did my life really begin as a sentient being? When will it end? These are the big questions.

MALCOLM: Smoky, some people say that old stories change every time they’re told. Did you hear different versions of your childhood stories over time and do you now find yourself telling them differently when you relate them to others? Do you begin to wonder what parts of them have slowly become fiction?

SMOKY: I assume you’re referring to the stories I relate in the book about how I became a storyteller; the stories about my mother being a turkey murderer and my uncles’ wild snake stories. Hell, when I heard them the first time I wondered how much of them were true and how much my mother and my uncles made up. Even as a little girl I recognized these magical stories as being part truth, part fiction. What I garnered from them wasn’t whether my elders were being totally truthful or not, but rather the love they poured into the stories as they told them. Stories without love are dull, and seldom are they remembered. But these stories? There was so much love in them it wouldn’t have mattered if my mother said she’d slain a dragon, or my uncles done battle with Kaa (from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book) himself. The stories would have stayed with me.

MALCOLM: Scott, when you follow Smoky into the hospital for seemingly an infinite number of visits leading back to her being struck by lightning in 1989 and you sit, as you wrote, in another waiting room that looks the same as all the others, do you see it all as being within the hands and plans of the universe or do you watch people, read books and wait in a stoic limbo mode?

SCOTT: My intention was not to be particularly deep or philosophical here. I’m just a man. This is what I do; this what everyone should do. We all should hold out our hands and arms to others, friends, enemies, loved ones. What else is there? I comfort Smoky because this is what I do.

MALCOLM: Smoky and Scott, before either one of you wrote the first word of this book, did one of you say to the other, “Let’s co-author a book about life, walking and nature” or was it a muse or a publisher that suggested the project?

SCOTT: Our wonderful publisher, Kimberlee Williams, suggested the project. She has been so supportive and helpful. Kimberlee is our muse.

SMOKY: Let me clarify that “Kimberlee is our muse” thing. I talk about Muse frequently in the book; Kimberlee is not that muse. Kimberlee could ask me a thousand times to dive naked into a freezing mountain river and I wouldn’t do it. Muse, however… well, you’ve read the book, Malcolm. And whoever reads this here, on your blog, can read the book to learn more about that Muse.

buckeyeMALCOLM: Smoky, has it taken a lifetime to learn the lesson of the California buckeye, that it’s part of a continuing process of life rather than a work of art to be preserved for all time as it was during one moment? Or, did the beauty of nature’s changes come to you more as an epiphany when you looked at the seeds you collected?

SMOKY: The beauty of nature’s changes first came to me when I was three years old and sitting in a blooming apple tree in my parents’ back yard. (I wrote about that experience in my “I Am Nature” essay in my book, Observations of an Earth Mage.) I’ve always been keenly in tune with the cyclical nature of Nature. In tune so much, in fact, I feel intense physical pain when rain is coming, for example, or when I’m near a place where our Mother Earth has been ravaged by bulldozers or mining equipment. The lesson of the buckeye is best summarized as a lesson in the impermanence of beauty; the impermanence of life as we know it. Life goes on, of course. It just changes form. The buckeye becomes a sprout, then a seedling, then, over time, an enormous tree. It would be wrong—it would be impossible, in fact—to try to contain it in any one form, no matter how beautiful. We also talk about that in the last chapter of Trails.

MALCOLM: Scott, you traveled a long way—and many years—from your childhood play in the dirt outside your house to the Big Sur where you re-discovered the land on a rainy night while reading Vonnegut. Do you wonder now why the journey to the Big Sur took as long as it did or whether you had missed signs and hunches early on that you needed to go there, or somewhere, to re-connect?

SCOTT: I do wonder why it took so long. I certainly missed signs along the way, many signs. When I would sit at a table in one of my many Ph.D. seminars, I felt like a robot, a machine, waiting for something. But sometimes I felt something taping, taping on my shoulder. Now I know what it was. It was Poe’s raven. It was my muse. I just brushed it away.

MALCOLM: Smoky, you write that you “find there are two kinds of people: those who believe it is possible to talk and listen to trees, rocks, animals, and rivers, and those who do not.” You talk and listen. Are you “wired differently” or are whose who don’t understand the dialogue brainwashed that it’s impossible or too busy to consider it?

SMOKY: Brainwashed might be too harsh a term. I think children hear Nature speaking. But as they grow, they’re told to put aside their playful, creative natures and buckle down and study hard so they can get a good job and support a spouse and 2.3 children and begin the cycle all over again. The quashing of creativity quashes the ability to hear Nature speak. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve learned the only people who talk to rocks and trees are crazy people. So call me crazy, but I know what I know, and I know when Nature and her children—the rocks, trees, birds, rivers—are talking to me. And I think other people hear it too. They just don’t remember the language. It’s not unlike being dropped on some random street in, say, the Middle East, and all you hear is Farsi. You hear something. You just don’t understand it. The good thing is, this is a skill that can be re-learned, understanding what the trees and rocks are saying. You just have to sit still and listen long enough.

MALCOLM: Scott and Smoky, what draws you to the Kings River in the Sierras? Would another river serve the same purpose or is the voice of this one Sympatico with your thoughts and feelings?

SCOTT: All mountain rivers inspire us: the movement, the sound, the color, the smell. So sensual. But there are many levels to a mountain river. They’re veins through the natural world; they’re Gaia’s poetry; they’re the beauty of life; they’re spirit. But the Kings River is special; it’s a mountain river on steroids.

SMOKY: For me it’s all that Scott said, but I’d add one thing: the Kings was the river of a profound spiritual renewal I experienced and write about in Trails. While other rivers are sacred to me—the Little Pigeon in the Smokies especially comes to mind—none of them have affected me, spiritually, as profoundly as the Kings. The Little Pigeon is the river of my heart; the Kings is the river of my soul.

scottMALCOLM: My feelings about mountain rivers are the same. Smoky and Scott, one of you is inspired by a guitar and one of you is inspired by Snake. Is this an example of opposites (or differences) attracting, or is there a synchronicity here that lurks within your respective muses?

SCOTT: Yes, synchronicity! Someone strums a snake; someone strums a guitar. There’s really no difference. As Rumi said, “Everything is music.”

SMOKY: Our muses are definitely entwined, which evokes an image of Snake. And music is a theme of our lives: there are times we live our lives at a fevered pitch, and times when we sit in quiet repose. There are slow, dark sonatas when I am sick; there are times the music plays so fast we can hardly dance fast enough to keep up.

MALCOLM: Does each of you have a favorite line from the book that best communicates the depth and breadth and intent of the book?

SCOTT: For me, it’s what I just said, “Everything is music.”

SMOKY: For me it would be “ …we went to the mountains, deep in the wild Sierra, to refresh our tired bodies and restore our faith in all that is Nature, and wild, and sacred, and good.” I hope our book, Trails, is like that, that it restores readers’ faith that there is good, and it is as close as our own back yards.

MALCOLM: Thank you for stopping by the Round Table today with your wonderful background about Trails.

Trails is available on Kindle, Payloadz and OmniLit. More formats will be released in the coming weeks.

Announcing: New Paranormal Short Story ‘Cora’s Crossing’


coracoverI’m happy to announce the publication of my e-book short story “Cora’s Crossing” released this week by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Priced at only 99 cents, this Florida Panhandle ghost story is already available on Kindle, PDF on OmniLit, and in multiple formats at Smashwords. The Nook version will be available soon.

Ghost Stories as “Local Color”

If you do a Google search like “Florida Ghost Stories” or “Swamp Ghosts” or “Southern Ghosts,” you’ll get hundreds of hits for spooky stories, haunted cemeteries and houses, and ghost hunter expeditions. Stories and legends are, as authors and journalists often say, part of the “local color”—the yarns, history and experiences that make places unique.

Local color in Marianna, Florida, the panhandle town most tourists know as the home of Florida Caverns State Park, includes a local legend about the haunted Bellamy Bridge across the Chipola River a few miles north of the caves. The story has been around for over 150 years and focuses on a young bride who died when her wedding dress caught fire. Since then, she has—some say—taken up residence at the old bridge, and possibly at the wood bridges that crossed the river before that. Local historian Dale Cox writes about the differences between the legend and the real-life Elizabeth Jane Bellamy in his new book The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge.

“Cora’s Crossing” is Pure Fiction

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories in which everyday people suddenly run afoul of ghosts (and other creatures) out of local legends. Truth be old, when I last drove over Bellamy  Bridge, I didn’t see a ghost. However (and this is important), I knew better than to drive over it at night. In “Cora’s Crossing,” two young men do drive over it at night and find more than they bargained for when they discover an injured young woman on the shoulder of the road and learn that the people who put her there are coming back.

The Florida Panhandle is filled with remote coastal areas, swamps, blackwater rivers, and other locations that are perfect for ghosts. Growing up there, I heard hundreds of ghost stories, usually at night when we were on Scout camping trips. Most of them began with, “On a dark and stormy night not far from our camp site. . .” Nothing like falling asleep with a ghost story on your mind. My Boy Scout troop never met up with any of the ghosts in those stories.

But what if we had? Worse yet, what if I had driven my ancient Chevy over Bellamy Bridge on a rainy night? I promise you, I didn’t. This story never really happened. Feel free to go visit the bridge during a thunder storm. Everything will be fine.


Kindle Edition

Kindle Edition

If you’re a fan of ghost stories, you may also like “Moonlight and Ghosts,” a story about the ghosts in an abandoned psychiatric hospital.

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‘Jock Talks…Politics’ Nominated for 2013 Pushcart Prize


I am honored—and quite stunned—to announce that my collection of (obviously fictional) satirical news stories Jock Talks…Politics has been nominated by Vanilla Heart Publishing (VHP) for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.  Jock Talks…Politics is one of four e-book satire collections based on my Jock Stewart character in Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. (Click on the cover graphic to see the YouTube announcement video.)

I am happy to report that my VHP friends Smoky Zeidel (Breakfast at the Laundromat) , Melinda Clayton (Erma Puckett’s Moment of Indiscretion) and S. R. Claridge (Petals of Blood) have also been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.

According to Wikipedia’s entry, “The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to nominate up to six works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976.”

My series of Jock Talks e-books is drawn from posts made on my Morning Satirical News weblog, with a few also published here. While my journalism mentors at the former Florida State School of Journalism and my professors at the Syracuse University Newhouse Communications Center would all be totally scandalized if they saw I’d given up writing real news stories in order to turn out satire, the best reply I have is: LIGHTEN UP.

If I weren’t already out of Scotch, I’d be pouring a double to celebrate. Jock himself would, of course, drink straight out of the bottle to keep from dirtying up an extra glass, using extra dishwasher energy and increasing out country’s reliance on foreign oil.



A combination of incongruous things


“pot·pour·ri n. pl. pot·pour·ris – 1. A combination of incongruous things: “In the minds of many, the real and imagined causes for Russia’s defeats quickly mingled into a potpourri of terrible fears” (W. Bruce Lincoln). 2. A miscellaneous anthology or collection: a potpourri of short stories and humorous verse. 3. A mixture of dried flower petals and spices used to scent the air.” – The Free Dictionary

  1. I’ve about finished reading An Uncertain Age by Ulrica Hume. That means you’ll be seeing a review of the novel here soon. According to the publisher (Blue Circle Press), Justine’s life is uncertain when she meets Miles Peabody on the Eurostar. She has lost her job, her fiance, everything except her dream of becoming an artist. Miles Peabody, a retired librarian and beekeeper, has always led a cautious, philosophical life. Now, faced with his mortality, he needs a miracle. Drawn inexplicably to each other, their relationship is tested when Miles invites Justine to join him on a Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. But before she can answer, Miles goes missing. Desperate to find him, and nudged by the French police, Justine slips into a dark night of the soul. A fascinating theme!
  2. I you keep up with publishing news, you know that the Independent Publishers Group and Amazon could not agree on Amazon’s slice of the pie. Consequently, Amazon turned off the buy buttons for the 4,000 e-books from the author’s IPG represents. In a post called “What Should an E-book Cost?,” IPG compares print and e-book pricing. Not being one to keep quiet about such issues, I posted “The low prices of e-books are bad for writers” on my Sun Singer’s Travels blog.
  3. While I’m happy that The Artist, Meryl Streep and Christopher Plummer won Oscars last night, I’m also happy that I only watched the last 15-20 minutes of the event on TV. It was long, ending a little after 11:30 p.m. (Eastern), but not as long as it has been before.  Had I watched all of it, I think I would have agreed with Andrew O’Hehir’s assessment in a piece he wrote for Salon: “From Billy Crystal’s cringe-worthy act to the obvious winners, the Academy Awards felt old, tired and out-of-touch.”
  4. My brother Douglas has entered the world of fiction writing with a fantasy/allegory called Parktails. The novel tells the story of a massive forest fire in a national park from the animals’ point of view. In many ways, Parktails is a quest story; the animals are seeking answers and inspiration and must travel many miles to learn how to keep their community together. Doug teaches art at George Fox University in Oregon. He is also the author of Seeing: When Art and Faith Intersect,  published in 2002.
  5. I have been updating my website to better display my books. Among other things, I needed to add my recently-released free e-book Celebrate Glacier National Park. The 48-page PDF about Glacier’s history, personalities, facilities, plants and animals can be downloaded from the Vanilla Heart Publishing page at Payloadz. In addition to the website, you can learn more about my 2011 contemporary fantasy novel Sarabande on my Sarabande’s Journey weblog where my most recent post was “Check your imagination at the door.” If your book group or class is planning to read and discuss the novel, you”ll find a list of sample discussion questions here.
  6. If you’re an author and/or an avid reader, I invite you to stop by my daily list of links for book reviews, book news, contests and writing tips called Book Bits. It’s usually posted in time for your lunch-time web surfing. Tomorrow’s edition will include a feature for writers called “Know Your Competition” and a review of Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker.
  7. You can still download Vanilla Heart Publishing’s free, Valentine’s Day e-book called A Gift for You. The book, which features fiction, nonfiction and poetry focused on love, includes my short story “Those Women” as well as work from authors S.R.Claridge, Janet Lane Walters, Anne K. Albert, Chelle Cordero, Marilyn Celeste Morris, Collin Kelley, Melinda Clayton, Charmaine Gordon, Smoky Trudeau Zeidel and Joice Overton.
  8. Even though it’s not yet spring, I’ve already had the lawn mower out once to trim the front yard. I’m always somewhat surprised when it starts right up without a lot of tinkering, oil changes, or a trip over to the auto parts store for a new spark plug. The yard looks better now and even somewhat green due to our recent thunderstorms. We’ll have to decide soon whether to clean out the garden in the back yard and then fight with the deer all spring and summer over our vegetables. Oddly enough, they seem to be drawn to the hot peppers–I thought they would leave those alone.

Wherever you live, I hope you’re seeing signs of spring.


contemporary fantasy for your Kindle

Pick up your Valentine’s Day Gift Here


If you’re here looking for chocolate, roses or Champagne, you won’t find them here.

You’ll find something that will last much longer (maybe as long as this antique Valentine’s Day card I saw on Wikipedia): a free, PDF e-book of fiction, nonfiction and poetry celebrating love written by the authors of Vanilla Heart Publishing:

  • S.R.Claridge
  • Janet Lane Walters
  • Anne K. Albert
  • Malcolm R. Campbell
  • Chelle Cordero
  • Marilyn Celeste Morris
  • Collin Kelley
  • Melinda Clayton
  • Charmaine Gordon
  • Smoky Trudeau Zeidel
  • Joice Overton

A Gift for You includes my short story “Those Women.” The book is available as a free download from PayLoadz. Enjoy the stories, novel excerpts, essay and poems. Share them with all your valentines while they enjoy the roses, chocolate and  Champagne you found at your handy neighborhood Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Ingles, Food Lion or Albertson’s.