How to become a famous writer

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Years ago, ruffians from the English department posted a gag flyer on school bulletin boards showing a hopeless oaf pictured with the quote: “Yesterday I couldn’t even spell ‘writer.’ Now I are one.”

For me, that flyer began a long-time distrust of high school and college English departments. The reasons run deep and belong in another post. Suffice it to say, English departments aren’t high on my list of steps to take in becoming a famous writer. Instead, I suggest the following:

Don’t Write Good.

Readers don’t like good even though many of them claim them have to have read “the good book” and that they adore every novel that features people who helps the homeless or who starve their families while donating time and money to the Salvation Army.

What readers really want is bad. Why do you think they liked The Da Vinci Code? “Christ, you’re telling me Jesus was married? Where can I get my copy?” They like heroes who use unnecessary force (as seen on the show “24”) because those tactics bring the kinds of results that generate closure to readers fighting for simple answers that work in a complex, politically correct rules.

It goes without saying that readers also buy books with back-cover blurbs like “Nymphomaniac Defrocks Beloved Priest in Forgotten Monastery” and  “Shy Housewife Kills Terrorists in Downtown Chicago with Illegal Weapons Stolen from Wimpy Cops.”

Commit a Crime

Writers with platforms sell books. If you threw your mama from a train, you have a much better chance of writing salable books than a hapless MFA-graduate whose “platform” is (a) writing good, (b) An MFA, and (c) A resume filled with angst-ridden poems and short stories set in an unbelievable universe where angst-ridden stuff actually gets onto bestseller lists.

A criminal record shows prospective agents and publishers you know how to catch the public’s attention and produce a novel that will sell 50,000 copies or more and attract options from Warner Brothers and 20th Century-Fox. What you don’t want is a novel that might attract options from the Hallmark Channel because it produces material from authors who write good.

Caution: Judges and lawmakers generally won’t allow a person to profit from a crime. If you write a novel called How I Threw Mama from the Train, your earnings will be confiscated if you really threw your mama from a train. Write about something else, using your fame as a criminal to get the attention of agents, publishers and readers. Your stuff might sell if you write good even though writing bad is better.

Become a Movie Star

If you’re a movie star or a famous Hollywood personality who looks like a slut or a stud on the red carpet, you can become a bestselling author even if you’re illiterate. How? Ghostwriters, darling. A sure way to get a publisher’s attention is by “writing” a memoir or novel based on a true story that dishes out plenty of scandal about your co-stars, lovers, and agents. The public adores stories that tell them their favorite stars aren’t really as pure as the driven snow. A bonus for movie stars is writing a book about an issue even if an expert writes it for you. Do this, and you’ll soon be testifying at Congressional hearings even though you probably know less about the issue than the average man or woman on the street.

The famous movie star approach also works for famous senators, representatives, governors, politicians and other idiots who are smart enough to understand that readers want your name on their coffee tables even if they never read a word of the drivel between the covers.

Plagiarize, Get Caught, Repent

Create a novel with a compelling plot, multidimensional characters, and a jaw-dropping title that, under normal conditions, will probably sell only one hundred copies.  Not to worry. This novel will have a secret weapon, and the big payoff comes when the secret is discovered: you’ve stolen thousands of its words from famous novels. When people find out, you’ll deny it, of course. Your readers will hate you. As your crime becomes harder to deny, you’ll claim “fair use.” That won’t work, but it may keep the wolves from your door for a while.

Finally, you’ll issue a news releasing claiming that Satan told you to do it and that your heartily sorry and never meant to harm anyone. You’ll refund the money you’ve made off the book and check yourself into a rehab center. Several years will go by. People will forget you. That’s when you strike with a book written in your own words. Readers will buy it like hotcakes because folks love repentant sinners who reform and start walking the straight and narrow. Even the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah will love you.

Your English teachers will never share any of these secrets with you. That’s okay, because nobody really needs those people as they much one needs oneself and a plan for success that really brings in the big bucks.

Malcolm

 

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Favorite Scenes from ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’

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I suppose most authors have favorite scenes from each of their books. We hope our readers like them, too. Here are a few from Eulalie and Washerwoman, from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

Publisher’s DescriptionTorreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord. Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman. 

Excerpts

So Eulalie woke precariously from the blues of her dreams into the jaundiced light of the kerosene lantern when a frightful pre-dawn bedlam was visited upon our back porch by a man named William Ochlockonee Tate, a blue-nosed hinny named Minnie, and a Florida water moccasin named Nagaina. I’m Lena, the cat. Before my conjure woman was awoken by Minnie’s flailing hooves, I dozed blamelessly behind the pot marigolds until they were kicked into the yard.

Audio Edition

“Sergeant told me they’d study on it after they get the crime wave under control.”

Eulalie spat a shower of juice against the busted marigold pot. “Crime wave? I hadn’t heard.”

“It’s so scary, you won’t sleep on this lumpy old sofa on the back porch no more. Officer Moe, he claims the Bellamy Bridge haint came to town to hex us up one side and down the other. Officer Larry took a posse and rode south to apprehend a swamp booger pissin’ in front of that new white people’s church on the Estiffanulga Road. “Preacher man was damn well pissed off.” Willie couldn’t help but grin at that. “Sergeant Curly’s been on the trail of Two-Toed Tom for a month of Sundays; says if he don’t close in for the kill soon, he’ll jump Jim Crow.”

“Bless their shiny badges and pea-pickin’ hearts,” said Eulalie as matter-of-factly as one could make such a tongue-in-cheek pronouncement with a good chew in the way.

“So, what do we do first? Gather herbs. Light candles. Boil water?”

“We ain’t midwifin’, old man.”

“Don’t drink nothin’ out of that pan, Lena,” she said. “That’s the leavings of blackberry root, alum and turpentine, not a cure for anything you got. You saw ol’ Bill Carver walkin’home with the cure because he rolled too many hot biscuits at the jook and got a personal disease”—she clapped her hands twice and glared at me like this was a warning—“one that makes it hurt to pee.”

“‘Negroes and Whites have been coming here for years no hint of a problem, Mr. Ivy. Why do I need a sign now?’ Little Poison leaned across the counter close enough for me to smell the cheap bourbon on his breath. ‘Listen good, Lane. When Niggers and Whites are together, somebody’s out of place. If I go inside that praise church, I’m in the wrong place. That’s a Nigger place. If a Nigger walks in my church, he’s out of place. Out of place people have a way of getting hurt, hurt bad sometimes, and then they’re found floating face down in the Apalachicola after falling off Alum Bluff, hurt bad when their necks get caught in nooses or their houses blow up or burn down. Civilized people grieve when people of any race, including you bagel-dogs get hurt. The Liberty Improvement Club wants a happy town where nobody gets hurt. You might say, we’re the Nigger’s best friend because we help him see the places he belongs, places he can have a comfortable life. When he makes a mistake, we punish him because we believe in spare the rod, spoil the child. You can see that, can’t you? That sign keeps people in the right place like saying keep off the grass or no parking. That sign will make you rich. Yeah, I thought your Jew-boy eyes would grow wide when you heard that. Mr. Smith will come by in an hour and explain it to you.’ He tossed another hundred dollar bill on the counter and left the store with a grin wide enough to show every rotten tooth in his mouth.”

“Gives us time for a quickie behind the brush pile, brown sugar,” said Billy “We’ll pop your clutch and see how fast you scream ‘Lordy Lordy’ and beg for more.”

Billy was in the process of massaging her bottom and leaning in close enough to lick the frown off her lips when he froze, froze like time looked away, then screamed, “Holy shit,” and stumbled back holding his neck, and for Hank it was the same even though his greedy fingers hadn’t quite reached Eulalie’s blouse, freezing though as the good Lord covered his eyes, wailing then like a stuck pig before stumbling backward over a keg of nails.

“Yellow jackets don’t believe in paramour rights,” said Eulalie.

She winked at me and walked off down the street. I stood there and watched Billy and Hank shoving their heads into the icy slush in the Coca-Cola cooler until they ran out of fresh profanity.

Reviews

Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'”
– Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat

“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. – Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review

“Narrator Tracie Christian’s spirited style is ideal to portray the fantasy world of conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins and her shamanistic cat, Lena, who live in Florida in the 1950s. Christian captures Eulalie’s shock when she learns that Jewish merchant Lane Walker, who’s always traded fairly with the local African-Americans, is being forced to give up his store to the Liberty Improvement Club, which forbids serving blacks. Lively descriptions of Eulalie reading possum bones and casting spells; tender scenes with her old beau, Willie Tate; and feline Lena’s communication with Eulalie via secret thought speech add to the local atmosphere. S.G.B. © Audiofile Magazine 2017

If the novel happens to end up on your bookshelf, I hope you enjoy reading it.

–Malcolm

 

In those days, our parents didn’t drive us to school

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Tallahassee Florida’s Leon High School – Florida Memory Photo

I probably sound like my grandfather telling a when-we-were-kids story when I say that my brothers and I walked to school from grade school through high school–or rode our bikes. School buses didn’t serve in-town neighborhoods and parents didn’t serve as chauffeurs unless a hard rain was about to fall.

High school seems to far away now, it’s possible I’ve forgotten most of it. One student drove his Model T to school. That got a lot of positive attention except when he was out starting it (with a crank, of course) on rainy days.

Heck, even the early Volkswagens could be started with a crank and were light-weight enough for football players to carry them up the steps while the owners weren’t around and leave them in a high school hallway. As you can see, there are a few steps to navigate en route to the front door.

When I was a senior, I drove a car to school once in a while. It was a 1954 Chevy that wasn’t very dependable. It used more oil than gasoline and the driver’s side window wouldn’t roll up. Even though Florida winters weren’t all that extreme, we had to put a blanket over the front end on cold nights or it wouldn’t start in the morning. My bike was more dependable, though the older I got, the more embarrassing it became to arrive on a bike and be seen putting it in the “losers’ bike rack.”

Leon High “Redcoats” band at the state capitol. Somewhere, I have a photo of us at the U.S. capitol from the year we marched in the Cherry Blossom Festival parade.

It took me about 30 minutes to walk to school; fifteen if I rode my bike. Sometimes my car would make it half way and I could talk the rest of the way in five minutes if I was lucky and 25 minutes if I wasn’t.

After all these years, I remember the names of more of the girls I had crushes on than the names of my teachers; except for the teachers who were memorable for good or bad reasons. I think I got a good education in this school, played clarinet in the band, and was in the chess club.

Leon High was large and old: the school was founded in 1871 and is considered Florida’s oldest, continually accredited high school.  The “new” building in the photograph was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. When I was there, we had almost 2,000 students in grades 9-12, though in years after that, the school board couldn’t decide whether the freshman belonged in the high school or the junior high school (now called a middle school <yawn>).

Getting to school progressed from not very far to farther since the grade school was the closest to my house, the junior high was right next door to the grade school, and the high school was just down the street. My brothers and I knew all these streets well since our paper routes covered a swath of neighborhoods from the high school to the north edge of town past our house. We knew every possible way of walking home.

When you were in school, did you ride a bus (school bus or city bus), walk, ride a bike, or get there in a revolving car pool of neighborhood parents?

Malcolm

Click on my name for information about my novels and short stories.

Looking back at ‘The Florida Terror’

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Florida KKK in 1952, Florida Memory Photo.

Progressives in Florida registered 100,000 new African American voters in 1951 and branches of the NAACP challenged Jim Crow laws at swimming pools, libraries, golf courses and libraries. The legislature passed an anti-mask ordinance.

As PBS notes, “The Klan responded with a rash of cross burnings and floggings from the Florida Panhandle to Miami; Hendrix [who chartered the latest iteration of the Klan] declared war on ‘hate groups,’ including the NAACP, B’nai B’rith, the Catholic church, and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ; and then declared himself a candidate for governor. By the summer, the Klan began trying to roll back progress with sticks of 60 percent dynamite, with so many bombings, or attempted bombings, that the northern press dubbed it ‘The Florida Terror.'”

In many communities, the sheriffs, police chiefs and city fathers were members of the Klan. Meanwhile, the same people associated with themselves with policy gambling operations aimed at African Americans because–in exchange for protection and looking the other way–they got rich from their cut of the action.

Still a community blemish in the 1970s.

The KKK was a fact of life in the Florida Panhandle as well as the peninsula when I was growing up. I saw burning crosses, knew people who were threatened, and sat in my car in down town Tallahassee waiting for their disgusting parades to get off the streets. And, unfortunately, I knew influential people whom I strongly believed were members of the Klan.

The state advertised itself as a paradise, but that reality didn’t extend to everyone. “The Ku Klux Klan was at least as violent in Florida as anywhere else in the nation, and the sheriffs, juries, judges, politicians, press, and citizens, for the most part, as culpable in its murderous history,” Michael Newton wrote in his 2001 book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida.”

“The bed sheet brigade is bad enough, but the real threat to Americans and human rights today is the plain clothes Klux in the halls of government and certain black-robed Klux on court benches.” ― Stetson Kennedy, author of  “The Klan Unmasked.”

My novels Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman focus on the dark era of the 1950s. The first novel tells the story of a white-on-black crime that the small town police force refused to investigate. In the second, the police turn a blind eye toward policy gambling and the threats against those who couldn’t pay their gambling debts. In my fiction, I have a powerful conjure woman named Eulalie with a very helpful cat named Lena.

I didn’t have the grit to tell these stories years ago, but I’m hoping that the better-late-than-never axiom is true.

–Malcolm

Ground Zero In Florida: Labor Day 1935

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Rescue train blown off tracks.

When I was in grade school in Florida in the 1950s, the parents and grandparents of my fellow students compared every tropical storm and hurricane to The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

While the cat 5 hurricane is still listed as the worst hurricane (in terms of intensity) to hit Florida, it’s seldom mentioned by forecasters and reporters now in spite of its sustained winds of 185 miles per hour and gusts at 200 mph. Its landfall pressure was 892 mbar, followed by Camille at 900 mbar in 1969 and Karina at 920 mbar in 2005.

I guess it happened so long ago, it’s no longer real to us.

The fatalities, at 405 were, however, far short of the deadliest hurricanes: Galveston in 1900 (8,000 dead), Lake Okeechobee in 1928 (2,500 dead), and Katrina in 2005 (1,200 dead). The worst hurricane to hit Florida when  I was growing up there was Donna, a cat 5, which got more than our attention in 1960 with 160 mph winds.

I doubt that most people driving the overseas highway to Key West these days know that between 1912 and 1935 Henry Flagler’s extension to the Florida East Coast Railway traveled 128 miles past the end of the Florida peninsula to Key West. All that ended in 1935 when the tracks were destroyed and never rebuilt.

As hurricane Irma approaches, I can’t help but think back to the stories our elders told us when I was a kid, long before the Weather Channel and 24/7 news channels gave us minute to minute reports of the hurricanes’ locations. “Yep,” they said, “you should have been here in 1935.”

Heck, I don’t want to be there now even though the storm seems to be headed toward us here in North West Georgia.

–Malcolm

 

‘How?’ – the motive power of the novel

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Journalists are taught that basic news stories focus on the 5Ws and the H, that is, who, what, when, there, why, and sometimes how. Consider this lead to a news story:

City council members Roger Daniels and Steve Tanner were killed when their sports utility vehicles collided at the corner of 5th and Main during the morning rush hour here today.

  • Who: Roger Daniels and Steve Tanner
  • What: Two Deaths
  • When: This Morning
  • Where: 5th and Main
  • Why: Automobile collision

If the story was written soon after the wreck, the how isn’t known? Since those involved were city council members, there may be a follow-up story explaining how it happened even before a police investigation is completed. In terms of the 5Ws, there aren’t many variations of automobile crashes at intersections.

Some gurus suggest that there aren’t many plot variations available to novelists either. They say the number is finite and/or that–in terms of the basic who-what-when-where-why series of events–all of the universe’s stories have already been told. So why, then, are writer still writing?

Because of the how.

In an interview in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers, Salman Rushdie says that James Joyce’s novel Ulysses doesn’t have much of a plot, that is to say, the who, what, when, where and why are very spartan. As he puts it, “Man works around Dublin for a day.” A lot of people do that, if not in Dublin, in some other city.

Wikipedia photo

“But the how,” he adds, “is what makes this a gigantic work of literature.” A story, he believes, “works” or “doesn’t work” based on the how. He suggests writers should take an organized approach when they contemplate writing a new story, asking themselves what are they writing about, what’s the story there, whose story are you telling, and why are you telling it?

But the important questions are how are are doing it? and why are you doing it like that?

Whether you take an organized approach via such questions, outlines, and other pre-planning or begin with a notion and simply start writing to see where the story goes, the how is the real story. A Dylan Thomas fan, I’ve always liked his poem “The Force That Through The Green Fuse” that begins: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees/Is my destroyer.” That force is energy.

I see that force in stories as roughly defined by the “how of it all.”

If you were to develop a short story using the events in the accident story above as the plot, it’s likely that the story wouldn’t become a gigantic work of literature if how it happened turned out to be that one of the drivers was texting and ran a red light.

But what if it was a murder/suicide? What if criminals jimmied the brakes in both cars? What if one or both men were being controlled by a witch? Okay, now we might be going somewhere readers can’t help but read about.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” People are kidnapped everyday, but how Eulalie stops this from happening is the true energy behind the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Glacier loses century-old Sperry Chalet in Sprague Fire – Updated 09/03/17

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According to the Incident Information System, “Thursday afternoon at approximately 6:00 pm, the main building at the Sperry Chalet was lost to the Sprague Fire. A highly skilled group of firefighters were staged at the Sperry Chalet over the last week. Those firefighters had an extensive hose lay, sprinkler, and pump system installed to protect all of the structures associated with the Chalet. The high winds experienced this afternoon pushed the fire to the east. The firefighters, supported by 3 helicopters, made a valiant stand to save the structure but were unsuccessful in saving the main Sperry Chalet. The firefighters remain on site, ARE SAFE, and are currently actively engaged in protecting the remaining structures.”

The other structures are a dining room/kitchen, maintenance, and restroom building. 

Nearby Lake McDonald Lodge was closed for the remainder of the season August 29 due to air quality concerns.

One of two back-country chalets built by the Great Northern Railway (now BNSF), Sperry opened in 1914. It featured 17 private rooms. Unlike Granite Park Chalet, Sperry provided linens and meals. The rooms had no heat, water, or electricity. Guests were advised to bring flashlights since candles were not permitted.

Sperry photo

The chalet was listed on the National Register in 1977.

Aftermath:

InciWeb Update: September 3: “Based on recommendations from the Sprague Fire Incident Management Team, Glacier National Park has issued an Evacuation Order effective September 3, 2017 at 10 am for all residents and visitors from the south end of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass. This includes the Lake McDonald Lodge, concession housing, Kelly Camp Area, and the Avalanche and Sprague Creek Campgrounds. Logan Pass is still accessible from the east side of the park. The duration of the evacuation is unknown at this time.”

See FIREFIGHTERS PREPARING FOR THE WORST AT GLACIER PARK’S LAKE MCDONALD LODGE

Fire Map as of September 3:

 

–Malcolm