Category Archives: authors

A smattering of writing news

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  • I’m slowly working on a new novel called Lena as a sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. For reasons that might become apparent once it’s published, you’ll see why I’m moving so slowly on it. It begins like this: “So, Eulalie sang ‘Lady Luck Blues’ as she drove the 1949 clover green Studebaker pickup truck down that southbound road while creeks, wiregrass, longleaf pines, and sunny autumn afternoon savannahs slow-drag danced past the open windows and South Wind’s children teased her hair into sweet disorder. She was happy and heading for Willie Tate down in Carrabelle.” Unfortunately for Eulalie, the happiness isn’t going to last.
  • I rely on a lot of books and websites for source material about conjure. Unfortunately, Spiritual Information–featuring Voodoo Queen–will no longer have new posts. The author, who is older than I am, has become too ill  to continue, and wants to retire after she finishes healing. The good news is that her blog will remain online as a reference. There’s a handy index of topics on the left side of the screen. A quick glance at this list will show you how wonderful this blog has been for those who want to learn more about the oldest hoodoo traditions from days gone by.
  • My publisher Thomas-Jacob will be featuring Eulalie and Washerwoman, Redeeming Grace (Smoky Zeidel), A Shallow River of Mercy (Robert Hays) and The History of my Body (Sharon Heath) in Amazon promotions during December. Keep an eye on Amazon for some wonderful books and opportunities.  While Robert Hays’new book will be released on December first, it’s already available for pre-order.
  • I appreciate the support of those of you who also followed my other blog “The Sun Singer’s Travels.” In trying to simplify (whatever that means), I’ve closed that blog. It was my oldest, having started on Blogger many years ago, subsequently moving here to WordPress. I’ll try to keep you up to date on this blog as well as my website.
  • This has nothing to do with writing, but my friend and Thomas-Jacob colleague Smoky Zeidel, who lives in a southern California desert community, has been posting glorious pictures of her vegetable garden on Facebook. I’m jealous. My tomatoes, banana peppers and jalapenos finally bit the dust with our cooler temperatures. I still have some hardy oregano and parsley. If you’re taking notes, the oregano and parsley won’t be on the test.

–Malcolm

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a few of my favorite Kazuo Ishiguro quotes

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According to the Nobel Prizes website, the selection committee commended Ishiguro as an author “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”

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In his Nobel interview, Ishiguro said, “No, I don’t think it will sink in for a long time. I mean, it’s a ridiculously prestigious honour, in as far as these kinds of things go. I don’t think you would have a more prestigious prize than the Nobel Prize. And comments I would make, I mean, one is, a lot of that prestige must come from the fact that the Swedish Academy has successfully, I think, kept above the fray of partisan politics and so on. And I think it’s remained one of the few things that’s respected, whose integrity is respected by many people around the world, and so I think a lot of the sense of honour of receiving the Prize comes from the actual status of the Swedish Academy. And I think that’s a great achievement unto itself, over all these years the Swedish Academy has managed to retain that high ground, in all the different walks of life that it honours. And then the other reason it’s a terrific honour for me is because … you know I come in a line of lots of my greatest heroes, absolutely great authors. The greatest authors in history have received this Prize, and I have to say, you know, it’s great to come one year after Bob Dylan who was my hero since the age of 13. He’s probably my biggest hero.”

Some of my favorite quotes from Ishiguro’s work

“I have this feeling that all it will take will be one moment, even a tiny moment, provided it’s the correct one. Like a cord suddenly snapping and a thick curtain dropping to the floor to reveal a whole new world, a world full of sunlight and warmth.” – The Unconsoled

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“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.” – The Remains of the Day

“That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all, and it was only a couple of weeks since I’d lost him. I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that –I didn’t let it– and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.” – Never Let Me Go

“The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.” – The Remains of the Day

“If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.” – The Remains of the Day

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“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.” – When We Were Orphans

“When you are young, there are many things which appear dull and lifeless. But as you get older, you will find these are the very things that are most important to you.” – An Artist of the Floating World

“But God will know the slow tread of an old couple’s love for each other, and understand how black shadows make part of its whole.” – The Buried Giant

“If I’m alone at home, I get increasingly restless, bothered by the idea that I’m missing some crucial encounter out there somewhere. But if I’m left by myself in someone else’s place, I often find myself a nice sense of peace engulfing me. I love sinking into an unfamiliar sofa with whatever book happens to be lying nearby.” – Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Malcolm

Writers, who’s your fashion icon?

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Flavorwire has a regular feature called “Sweetest Debut” in which they interview emerging authors to “find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.”

On February 15, they featured Teresa Messineo (“The Fire By Night”), on February 14, the column’s author, Sarah Seltzer, talked to Ethel Rohan (“The Weight of Him”), and on February 9, the focus was Kathleen Kent (“The Dime”).  The interviews begin with the question: What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

fashionOkay, fair enough, “elevator pitch” is today’s jargon for a short, logline kind of statement that quickly explains a novel without getting boring. The point is, you’re in an elevator and have just moments to speak. If the whole “elevator pitch” thing has value, it teaches authors to get to the point, whether they’re trying to sway an editor, movie producer, or a reader.

I’ll stipulate that Flavorwire is a pop culture magazine. The column is, no doubt, supposed to make writers human, to dredge up fun facts about them that everyday folks (e.g., non writers) will find absolutely fascinating. That said, I stumbled when I saw that the column’s guests were being asked to name their fashion icon as well as the name of the TV show they “binge watch” when they’re not writing.

Since these are emerging authors, they’re a lot closer to being everyday folks than, say, the Hollywood celebrities who try to pretend like they’re regular people even though they own two or three houses with a combined value of $50 million. After all, most debut authors haven’t had a chance to get filthy rich and start acting, well, uppity.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m not really drawn to an author who has a fashion icon. I don’t even like the term “binge watching,” because it sounds like a slovenly thing to do. Worse yet, since the authors being interviewed are younger than I am, they’re listening to music and watching television shows I’ve never heard of. One of them did say The Great Gatsby is overrated, and so I crossed her off my list immediately, though I was pleased she mentioned a book that wasn’t about the rise and fall of the little black dress.

I don’t know how long “The Sweetest Debut” has been running because, the columns I saw didn’t interest me enough to drag me back to past months. I did hope to see a man interviewed to find out if he would get a different set of questions, I dunno, something stereo-typically masculine like “What fashion model do you wish you were having sex with?” or “Who’s the most famous NFL quarterback you beat up back in a high school PE class?”

I’m not saying the column is asking “women’s questions,” but I’m suspicious.

Could be, I’m just out of touch. If they interview me (fat chance), I’ll tell them my fashion icon is Levi Strauss and that I binge watch old episodes of “Walker Texas Ranger.” Actually, I watch Masterpiece Theater, but I have a feeling that answer might get edited out for lack of, well, popular flavor.

As for fan-fiction fantasies, Flavorwire, you’ve got to be kidding.

–Malcolm

 

 

Isaac Mizrahi on a Love of Old Things, and Surviving the Nightmare of the Present 

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“When I look back at my life, I think about what a wonderful, happy, satisfying life I’ve had. It’s so funny. It’s like living through things is a nightmare. The present of things is a nightmare—the not being gratified by things in the moment is a nightmare. But then when you look back at the decades of your life, like in your twenties, or your thirties, or your forties, you go, “Wow, it was so great living through that and gosh I got so much out of that, and gosh this and gosh that.” And yet living through it is never as satisfying.”

Source: Isaac Mizrahi on a Love of Old Things, and Surviving the Nightmare of the Present | Literary Hub

I have often felt this way. At the time, life was just life. Fortune was always slinging it’s outrageous arrows. Guardian angels were slinging miracles like hash house oatmeal. Yet later, all these “gosh this” things turn into our stories and our inflated tall tales and remember whens.

Some people tell these stories to their children and whoever else risks visiting them on the front porch or the nursing home. Some people put put their stories into memoirs that read like (and probably are) fiction. And some people put their stories into fiction that read like (and just might be) a bit of truth wearing a mask to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Click on the link for a few minutes of potent thought that will–depending on your age and current state of mind–remain with you only as long as you’re reading the article or for the rest of your life. (though you may not know that until later).

–Malcolm

Incidentally, if you live in the U.S. and hang out on the GoodReads site, you have a chance to win a paperback copy of my new novel Eulalie and Washerwoman in a November 6-14 give-away,

Returning to Sunetra Gupta’s ‘Memories of Rain’

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memoriesofrainIt’s been 24 years since I first read Memories of Rain by Calcutta-born Sunetra Gupta who, when not writing fiction and translating Tagore Poetry, works as a Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. It’s one of my “go to” books whenever I run out of factory fresh books. I’ve read it numerous times and find the prose fresh and new every time I return to it.

Moni, who is Bengali, marries an Englishman who, in those early days that began on a rainy day, ignited her passions and promised her everything. Years after that day, Moni is planning to leave him because he not only has another woman, he has brought her into their home in what he sees as a perfect love triangle. Flashbacks tell much of the story.

When the book was released, Kirkus reviews said: “A stunning, luminous debut set in Calcutta and London by a young, true heir to Virginia Woolf. The forward action of Gupta’s hypnotic novel takes place during a single weekend: Calcutta-born Moni, despondent over her English husband’s infidelity, secretly plans to take their daughter and return to India on the child’s sixth birthday. But the stream- of-consciousness narrative weaves together memories and images, providing not just the history of a fragile love but of a woman’s psychology and soul.”

Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers, so I was stunned to see such adulation on the back cover of the novel. It turned out to be true, though I wonder how Gupta survived it and was able to write four novels after that one without losing her nerve or her voice. Her most recent is So Good in Black (2011).

Unfortunately, the book is out of print, though you can still find used copies available on Amazon. Several reader reviews on Amazon’s US and UK sites are less than kind, proving my thesis that if you don’t normally read a book in a certain genre, you shouldn’t be writing a review. Such reviewers lambaste the style which is essential to the kind of book it is.

The Independent said, “Do not be put off by this (Kirkus’ viewpoint) – the comparison might have been provoked by the stream-of-consciousness narrative, but Ms Gupta has a refined sensibility and a graceful style all her own. She shows an intelligence, wisdom, and judgement astonishing in so young a writer – she is only 27.”

Ms. Gupta and I have corresponded by e-mail from time to time, and when she came to Georgia for a medical conference several years ago, we planned to meet for a cup of tea. Unfortunately, the conference schedule changed, and we couldn’t make our schedules match. I was one of the early reviewers of So Good in Black and had despaired that it took so long for a U. S. publisher to discover and publish the book, so I expect we might have talked about the book.

Her research of infectious diseases has brought her awards. I marvel at how she juggles two loves, science and art, biology and fiction, and novels that immerse readers in other worlds while she is otherwise focused on the health of this one. Is she Woolf’s heir? Yes and no. If she wrote more fiction, then yes. But since she doesn’t, then probably not. Either way, I think Woolf would appreciate her work.

Perhaps I should hold a seance and talk to Ms. Woolf. Who knows what she would say. Or, if Ms. Gupta comes to Georgia again, perhaps our schedules will match. Meanwhile, I read and re-read Memories of Rain and continue to wonder at its words.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and fantasy, including Conjure Woman’s Cat.

 

Review: ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’

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“For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll hear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.”

halfformedRiverrun of words, past church and family and worse, from swerve of hope to bend of knee, you might think you’re reading “Finnegan” again as you start Eimear McBride’s streamOFconsciousness novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. James Joyce leaves early on, though when you reach the novel’s final words, you might agree this story is a wake.

It’s also a mental letter of sorts, an interior monologue, from a rebellious sister to a brother with a brain tumor, within.the.tight.confines of a dysfunctional household, abuse and other perversions, rape and WorseThanRape, and the protagonist’s desperately destructive behavior. We are INside her head. Too much for simple syntax there, though sin is a constant theme, and prayers, too, so when James Joyce leaves the book by the back door, Virginia Woolf arrives at the front door. Figuratively speaking. You should be afraid, for this book will wreck you as though you yourself are violating the protagonist page by heartbreaking page, you bastard.

It’s also a raw poem, laced with the worst muck of life, the flotsam any free-flowing river carries along with sunlit ripples of lyr(within lyrics)ics more beautiful than anyone other than the doomed brother deserves to hear. The flow of words, blood, semen, vomit and other prayers are dAZZling to experience. The book’s un-named characters lead sad lives that would be sad if McBride had told the story through a conventional approach. Yet the fractured prose fits all that’s broken in the story and the poetry of the riverrun of words accentuates every vile UNformed and 1/2Formed thing.

Mammy is a single parent who is randomly holy.past.all.understanding, loving, vicious, and blind to everything but her son in her unkempt house in this small Irish town. Daddy is absent, resting in hell or elsewhere. Uncle is perverted. Schoolkids are cruel. Men have one thing on their minds. Brother is slow. Sister is wantonly searching for herself. And fate is relentless. Life inside this story, and inside the protagonist’s head, is difficult, difficult to read in half-formed thoughts, and impossible to set aside.

You won’t forget this story even though you will try.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

New Pat Conroy Center Fundraising Drive Underway

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Those of us who are fans of the late Pat Conroy will have another reason to travel to the South Carolina Lowcountry. The noprofit Pat Conroy Center will soon open in Beaufort in support of local authors and the act of writing. A fundraising campaign is underway. You can learn more about it here.  According to the Associated Press, Barbra Streisand and John Grisham are among the honorary board members. The effort is being spearheaded by Conroy’s widow author Cassandra King.

Wikipedia photo

Wikipedia photo

Meanwhile, a nonfiction collection of articles, letters and essays called A Low Country Heart will be published this fall.

Currently in between new books, I’m re-reading The Lords of Discipline. Like many of Conroy’s books, it is–in addition to the plot–a lyrical prose poem about Charleston and South Carolina Lowcountry. For many, Conroy’s writing is too lyrical, though not as over the top as Thomas Wolfe who was an influence on Conroy. I appreciate the turns of phrase and the use of words. I will admit that I’m having to shift gears to get back to Conroy after finishing two Stephen King books.

Favorite Pat Conroy Passages

  • “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” – The Prince of Tides
  • “Do you think that Hemingway knew he was a writer at twenty years old? No, he did not. Or Fitzgerald, or Wolfe. This is a difficult concept to grasp. Hemingway didn’t know he was Ernest Hemingway when he was a young man. Faulkner didn’t know he was William Faulkner. But they had to take the first step. They had to call themselves writers. That is the first revolutionary act a writer has to make. It takes courage. But it’s necessary” – My Losing Season: A Memoir
  • Photo from official Conroy website.

    Photo from official Conroy website

    “There is such a thing as too much beauty in a woman and it is often a burden as crippling as homeliness and far more dangerous. It takes much luck and integrity to survive the gift of perfect beauty, and its impermanence is its most cunning betrayal.” ― The Prince of Tides

  • “Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.” ― The Lords of Discipline
  • Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold….The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, he depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself in the long westward slide, it was the old dance of days in the Carolina marshes, the breathtaking death of days before the eyes of children, until the sun vanished, its final signature a ribbon of bullion strung across the tops of water oaks.” ― The Prince of Tides
  • “The tide was a poem that only time could create, and I watched it stream and brim and makes its steady dash homeward, to the ocean.” ― South of Broad

Word is, Conroy had submitted a portion of the novel he was working on when he died  in March. Naturally, the publisher is searching for notes, outlines and other materials to see whether the book can be finished. In many ways, I hope they can’t find what they need because having it finished by another author just wouldn’t be the same.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and other novels.