Author Archives: Malcolm R. Campbell

About Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of "Sarabande," "The Sun Singer," "At Sea," "Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire," and "Conjure Woman's Cat."

In fifteen minutes, it will be time to feed the cats

Standard

I have no ideas for a fresh blog post. That’s why I typed the header about the cats. Right now, none of my three cats are anywhere. They lurk. I think they actually have a Narnia-wardrobe somewhere in the house and disappear for voyages on the Dawn Treader with Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Prince Caspian.

Fine, maybe they’ll start writing sage and quasi-luminous posts in exchange for their four squares a day.

[time passes as I wonder how many people reading blogs today know what four squares a day means.]

In ten minutes, it will be time to feed the cats. I’ll probably get to the kitchen on time because I’ve decided that those who don’t know what “four squares a day” means can Google it.

I thought perhaps I’d announce a book sale or an Amazon giveaway. Tomorrow, I think. Watch my twitter account (https://twitter.com/MalcolmCampbell) for notices. That’s where I mention Amaon giveaways because those come and go way too fast for a WordPress post.

The lights just flicked. One thing about being hard of hearing means that I don’t hear rain. The weather radar, which is showing red for this part of the county, indicates it’s raining like hell outside. Who knew?

Maybe that’s why the cats are missing. They’re under a bed or a couch.

[time passes while I go look outside]

I hope the weather radar liars got their pay docked today. It’s not yet raining like hell outside. But now that I wasted time going to look, I’m probably going to be late feeding the cats.

It’s what they’ve come to expect. I don’t know about you, but just looking at the photograph of their dinner makes my mouth water.

Keep watch on that twitter account tomorrow for some great giveaways.

–Malcolm

 

The writer’s friend: the voice you hear while reading silently

Standard

Years ago, I was told that sounding the words out inside my head while reading silently was a very slow way to read. (No, I didn’t move my lips while reading.) Sometimes it’s my voice. Sometimes it’s my approximation of the author’s or the character’s voice. I’ve always found that helpful because it made the material more real. I didn’t tell other people this after hearing how stupid I was to read that way.

Research summarized in an article in “Psychosis,” however, indicates that “the vast majority (82.5 per cent) of contributors said that they did hear an inner voice when reading to themselves.”

Perhaps one’s view of the good or ill of hearing an inner voice while reading depends of your language focus. It is a spoken means of communication that’s sometimes translated onto the page or a written communication that it’s possible to read aloud?

If you write–or if you read a lot of fiction–storytelling might seem first and foremost an oral tradition whether you’re hearing the story told to you in person, on TV or in an audiobook, or whether you’re reading it from the printed page.

Since I have always heard an inner voice speaking the words I read or write, I am very conscious of what each sentence sounds like from one draft or a story to the next. The sound of that printed sentence in the manuscript is either awkward or it isn’t, has a rhythm to it that’s suitable to the story or the character, or it doesn’t.

In Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: a 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, she writes, “The sound of language is where it all begins. The test of the sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise the words make, the sounds and silences that make the rhythms marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depend of those sounds and rhythms. This is just as true of prose as it is of poetry, though the sound effects of prose are usually subtle and always irregular.”

Some writers read their material aloud. Others ask a spouse or friend to read it to them. Not a bad idea, though I’ve never found that necessary. The first thing is being able to hear the voice, either your voice “talking the words” to yourself or a gifted narrator saying each line. Once you hear your work, it becomes so much easier to craft.

–Malcolm

Re-reading a classic: ‘The House of the Spirits’

Standard

“One of the strongest impressions I took away from this book was that despite everything there is an optimism about the book’s ending. Throughout the book one has felt strongly the inevitability of events – that the blindness of the right-wing Esteban to the liberalism of his family, which one might argue is inherited from his wife’s parents, will lead to disaster, that Esteban’s casual abuse and rape of peasants will rebound on future generations of the family – and yet at the end Alba breaks the cycle of anger and hatred.” Zoe Brooks in Magical Realism

Books change each time we read them–unless we’re cursed with a photographic memory. Presumably, the words don’t re-arranged themselves on the pages, nor do heretofore unknown pages creep into the book with new characters and subplots from Central Casting.

The world is probably stranger than we know, so it’s safe to assume we change in between the readings. I’m not the same person I was when I first read The House of The Spirits in 1986 when my Bantam mass market paperback edition was published. Years have passed and governments and attitudes have come and gone since then.

Imagine the differences in first-reading perception of this 433-page saga between the rushed college student who has a few weeks to read it for a 400-level college course in order to compare and contrast it with the somewhat similar multi-generational magical realism sagas The Hummingbird’s Daughter and One Hundred Years of Solitude, and his/her twin reading the book on a rainy afternoon in a mountain cabin.

The first will be speed reading, taking notes, and writing in the margins. The second, (depending on whether the rain has interrupted planned outdoor activities or not) may be either relaxed or bored. They won’t see the same book. A third person who is reading the book leisurely in order to savor every line will come away with a very different memory of the story.

Like The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Mexican setting) and One Hundred Years of Solitude (South American setting), The House of Spirits (unspecified Latin American setting, but presumably Chile) includes peasant workers and their beliefs, strong patróns who control the people’s temporal destiny, harsh and potentially unstable governments, and leftist or other guerrillas seeking change.

To my mind, the magic in One Hundred Years of Solitude is more overt and widespread than the magic in the other two books, one with the young girl Teresita (in the very mystical “Hummingbird” based on  a real person) who can heal, the other with the family matriarch, Clara, who talks to spirits and moves objects without touching them. Before re-reading The House of the Spirits during the last several days, my memory of the book was that it contained a lot more magic than it does.  I remembered its gritty realism, but had blocked out the worst of it.

Had I taken a lie-detector test about the story in Allende’s debut novel several weeks ago, it would probably show (with no hint of fabrication) that my mind had mixed some of the characters and circumstances with those from her other books and that I recalled a much more ethereal tale than physically exists on the pages of my 31-year-old paperback. I don’t read books with the eye of a college English professor who also reads critical reviews and in-depth analyses of the books s/he teaches in class and/or writes papers about. So, if somebody asks me to tell them what the books I’ve read are about, my knowledge of the plots and characters will always be imperfect.

Somehow, books read by many an avid reader often run together over time unless the stories are constantly studied and compared with other books in the same genre. If there’s a blessing in a poor memory, it’s that in re-reading a book, the opportunity for fresh discoveries is all the greater for it. I suspect The House of the Spirits changed me more this time than it did in 1986, for now I am seeing more clearly a story that I had mythologized over the years. I am older, so I see the aging Clara with fresh but older eyes and, having come to terms to some extent with the amount of hatred and evil in the world, I see Alba’s hope at the end of her horrid torture as more authentic than when my anger–as a younger, more volatile man–at her treatment blinded me to her transformation.

Like absent old friends, old books usually aren’t the books we remember exactly. That’s the beauty of meeting up with them again and then going away all the wiser for it.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

 

Glacier Park’s 2017 Entry Pass Features First Blackfeet Ranger

Standard

from NPS Glacier National Park

WEST GLACIER, MT. – The 2017 Glacier National Park annual entrance pass is now available at park entrance stations and the park headquarters building in West Glacier.

The pass depicts the image of Francis X. Guardipee, the first Blackfeet Native American to serve as a ranger in Glacier National Park. Guardipee became a ranger in 1930. His duties took him throughout the park, including Two Medicine, Nyack, and winters in East Glacier. He retired in 1948 and spent his retirement in Browning with his wife, Alma. He was a dedicated Boy Scout troop leader, and when he died in 1970, had spent more than half a century leading Boy Scout Troop 100. Chief Lodgepole Peak was named in honor of Guardipee in 1973. The peak is located in the Two Medicine area of the park.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) is the legislation that allows the park to collect entrance and camping fees, and retain 80 percent of the collected revenue. The remaining 20 percent is distributed throughout the National Park System. Basic park operations are funded by direct appropriations from Congress.

The entrance pass in 2017 will be $50. The $5 fee increase over the $45 2016 annual pass reflects input from the civic engagement process Glacier National Park implemented in November 2014 following a nationwide National Park Service review of fees. No other entrance or campground fees will change this year.

The funds generated by fees are used for projects that enhance visitor services and facilities, including interpretive programs at campgrounds, the backcountry campsite reservation program, repair and restoration of trails, restoration of wildlife habitat, improvement and replacement of restroom facilities, preservation and maintenance of roads, and shuttle bus operation and maintenance. To learn more about the types of projects funded with user fees, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/management/yourdollarsatwork.htm.

For more information on entrance and camping fees, please visit https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/fees.htm

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels The Sun Singer, Mountain Song, and Sarabande are partially set in Glacier National Park as is one of the short stories in Emily’s Stories.

Do you remember the ‘concordance’ Amazon used to provide for notable books

Standard

Amazon used to include a so-called concordance that listed words, phrases, and other information deconstructed out of a novel on the book’s sales page. What were Dan Brown’s favorite words? What were Tom Clancy’s favorite phrases?

When I saw those concordances, my first thought was that they sounded very close to author Italo Calvino’s parody of literary deconstruction in his novel If on a winter’s night a traveler. The gist of the parody was that one would be able to enjoy an entire novel by simply reading lists or words and phrases along with other tips uncovered through computer analysis.

As we have seen, computers have been used to read texts to validate whether those texts are within an author’s style or were written by somebody else. I can see the value in that far beyond the anti-plagiarism software used by some universities.  That is, what’s the likelihood that a newly discovered book was written by a great master?

I read Calvino’s book long before Amazon was a gleam in anyone’s eye. So, when I first saw those Amazon concordances, I immediately thought of the parody in the novel. We’re almost there, I thought. We can almost read the concordance and get the same amount of enjoyment out of the book we would have found had we bothered to spend many hours reading it. Maybe this is why Amazon removed the feature: it reduced sales.

This all came to mind this morning when I read “From ‘alibi’ to ‘mauve’: what famous writers’ most used words say about them”  in The Guardian. We learn here that Bradbury’s favorite word was “cinnamon,” that Rowling likes the phase “dead of night,” that Dan Brown uses “full circle,” and that Nabokov used the word “mauve” forty four times.

Now we know what the novel really means.

Computers will tell us amazing things. I don’t really want to know them unless I’m writing satire. (I once proposed using the Amazon concordance to The Da Vinci Code to write bestseller novels with the right stuff in them to get big reviews, loads of money, and movie deals.) I will confess that when I find myself using a word or a pet phrase too many times in a story, that I do a search for the suspected word or phrase to see how often it appears. If I don’t like what I see, I get rid of it.

I don’t think I want to know how often Nabokov used the word “mauve,” much less what a computer or an expert in literary analysis thinks that fact means. I don’t even care if James Patterson uses 160 cliches per 100,000 words or consider it a plot spoiler to hear that Donna Tartt uses “too good to be true” more than somebody in an ivory tower deems appropriate.

When computers and their deconstructionist slaves finish with a novel, the story, I think, gets lost in the shuffle rather like learning that you love your spouse due to sequences of binary reactions in your brain rather than  the fact they listen to what you say and care about you and support even your worst faults.

The Amazon concordance had its amusing feature, telling us the number of words the books gave us per dollar and per ounce. The value of that can’t possibly be underestimated.

Too much information, and to what end?

Malcolm

 

Review: ‘The Invisible Library’

Standard

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very clever fantasy involving a protagonist who works for a library that exists between worlds. Her mission, which is rather like a James Bond in search of books, is to find and obtain meaningful texts in alternate worlds and bring them back to headquarters.

In some ways, the book is mix of fantasy, faerie and steampunk because the alternate realities have their own systems and amount of magic, including fae, werewolfs, and dragons. The main character, Irene, is a junior level librarian with a fair amount of experience. On the current mission, she’s assigned to take a long a student for whom she will be a mentor. This makes her job more difficult while making the plot more interesting.

As it turns out, there are many factions in the “London” to which she is sent, all of whom seem to know about the rare book. She has to figure out who, if anyone, can be trusted.

The book has a lot of talk in it, and by that I meant Irene and her student have to talk a lot, but are also thrust into situations where they–and potential allies and villains alike–are constantly having to explain things to each other. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Bond films wherein when the bad guy gets the upper hand, he always has an egotistical need to explain the wonders of his technology and his plans–giving Bond a chance to get the drop of him and win the day.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of intrigue here along with some action scenes that will knock your sox off. The book kept my interest enough to tempt me into placing the next book “The Masked City,” on my reading list.

View all my reviews

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?

Standard

In his Salon interview with five authors (“Figuring out that page-turning quality is tougher than it looks”), Teddy Wayne asked, “How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?”

I especially liked Sara Flannery Murphy’s (“The Possessions”) answer: “I always remind myself that I’m not entitled to anybody’s attention. That way, I feel a lot of gratitude for the people who do listen, knowing that they’re giving their attention to me freely and generously.”

Authors have been asked this question for years. Some are considered arrogant, egotistical, and vain, filled with self-importance as though they are kings and queens who must be served by millions of little readers. Some write that they write and hope the readers who like their plots and characters find their books.

Some authors are very commercial: they have a knack for knowing what sells well and how to keep writing it so that over time they develop a reputation for delivering stories in their genres of choice that are guaranteed to keep their fans forever turning pages and waiting for the next book.

Some authors are more comfortable in niches and (perhaps) believe they’re lucky if anyone finds their books.

Today, a lot of authors think the way to success is to sell stuff cheaply. Maybe that works. But really, the thing all authors are asking their readers to give them is their time. Whether those readers pay 99¢ or $29.95 for the book, the time it takes for them to read the novel, short story collection, or nonfiction is more valuable to them than the cash. Whether they read the book in an afternoon, a long weekend, or a few pages every night for weeks before going to bed, they had unlimited options for spending that time. But they chose the book.

That’s why I like Murphy’s answer. And frankly, there’s no way to truly thank a reader who has spent many hours “freely and generously” reading something we’ve written other than doing our best to tell the story well.

Malcolm