Tag Archives: authors

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

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Briefly noted: ‘Refiner’s Fire’ by Mark Helprin

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While Kirkus Reviews called Mark Helprin’s first novel Refiner’s Fire (1978) “grandiose,” it received more positive reviews from other major media outlets. I first read it five years after it came out when, my excited reading of Winter’s Tale (1983), led me on a search for another Helprin book. Winter’s Tale remains my favorite, followed by A Soldier of the Great War (1991). While In Sunlight and Shadow (2012) seemed to be to be less successful than the others, it contains the same dazzling images, imagination, and prose I loved in Winter’s Tale and Refiner’s Fire. In rereading Refiner’ Fire this past week, I believe it still holds up as a compelling novel about a man whose diverse experience refine and purify him as surely as a refiner’s fire purifies silver.

Publisher’s Description: “Born on an illegal immigrant ship off the coast of Palestine, Marshall Pearl is immediately orphaned and soon brought to America, where he grows up amidst fascinating and idiosyncratic privilege that is, however, not nearly as influential in regard to his formation as the pull of his origins though they are unknown to him. A cross between Fielding´s Tom Jones and the story of Moses, Refiner´s Fire is a great and colorful adventure that ends in a crucible of battle, suffering, and death, from which Marshall Pearl rises purely by the grace of God. Addressing the holy and the profane, but never heavy handedly, it is not so much a meditation on the fate of the Jews after the Holocaust, the rise of Israel, and the spirit of America, as it is an elegy and a song in which the powers of life and regeneration are shown to gorgeous effect.”

From the Reviews: 

  • “Mark Helprin, who must be legend to his friends, risks more than most novelists dare in ten years. Helprin writes like a saint, plots like a demon, and has an imagination that would be felonious in all but the larger democracies . . . . The sound that drowns all others in this novel is that of kingdom-come ignition.” (The Village Voice)
  • “Marvelous . . . . A brilliantly sinuous tale that sets an Augie March-like young man into a Gabriel Garcia Marquez universe . . . There are so many things to admire in Mark Helprin’s first novel that one’s problem is where to begin.” (Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review)

From the Novel: “You know,” said Al in a daze of hunger and cold, “when you see this, you realize that despite all the crap that goes on in the cities, despite all the words and accusations, the country has balance and momentum. The whole thing is symmetrical and beautiful; it works. The cities are like bulbs on a Christmas tree. They may bum, swell, and shatter, but the green stays green. Look at it,” he said, eyes fixed on the horizon, not unmoved by the motion of the train. “Look at it. It’s alive.”

There is a lot of magic in Helprin’s writing, though I believe he doesn’t care for the term “magical realism” and doesn’t see his work in that way. However, the fact that much of this novel is told in flashbacks dreamt by protagonist Matther Pearl, allows Helprin a lot of flexibility in his use of dazzling images and exuberant language. I’m glad I experienced the story again.

–Malcolm

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

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

 

Those messy website blues

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Like a new car, a new website looks sleek, clean, and is the envy of everyone who sees it. However, like cars that get older and no longer are washed or given scheduled maintenance and oil changes, websites start showing their age as well.

Last night on MasterChef, chef Ramsay told one of the contestants that his dish was confusing because it wasn’t cohesive and was more like a smorgasbord of flavors that didn’t go together. This is another way of saying that–like the old car–a website that’s messy, confusing and probably difficult for new visitors to figure out isn’t helping you.

When I set up my website (Conjure Woman’s Cat), I had great intentions. I was going to keep it squared away (a navy terms that means “shipshape”) rather than than letting it look like our old Buick or the top of the desk in my office.

I chanced upon a writer’s website article that basically said, if you’re website is screwed up, you won’t be kissing your books goodbye because nobody will be buying them. This caught me attention because sales have been lower this year than last year. Partly, that’s Amazon’s fault for establishing a new ranking system that’s biased in favor of bestselling books from mainstream publishers. Even though the rest of us are in the chopped liver category, it was obvious to me that I needed to clean up and streamline the website.

This has taken the better part of two days. It’s by no means perfect. On the other hand, it no longer has a garage sale kind of ambiance surrounding it. One thing I tossed out was a synopsis of each of my older books. This made the site too wordy and added pages. So, I’m featuring my two latest books and putting everything else in a catalogue of covers. Might be a mistake, but the result is certainly a lot easier to figure out.

In the business world some years ago, the word “agile” was often used to refer to companies that could change quickly with the times whether they needed new products or new ways of talking about their current products. I think authors need to be agile in this way in their presentations and promotions. While the books are the same books we published some years ago, we need to find new ways of capturing people’s attention.

So, I cleaned up my website an hour ago. So far, neither Oprah or Warner Brothers has called, but I can always hope.

–Malcolm

A new poll says people are still reading

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A new Gallup poll summarized by Art Swift and Steve Ander shows the following:

  • 35% say they read more than 11 books in the past year
  • 53% of young adults read between one and 10 books in the past year
  • 73% prefer printed books to e-readers or audio books

According to Swift and Ander, “Despite the abundance of digital diversions vying for their time and attention, most Americans are still reading books. In fact, they are consuming books at nearly the same rate that they were when Gallup last asked this question in 2002.”

Writers’ magazines love including essays with titles like “Death of the Novel.” While it’s true that most commercial magazines no longer carry serialized novels or short fiction, bricks and mortar stores and online booksellers are still moving books into people’s hands and hearts. And just type the words “book blog” into a search engine and look at the number of hits. A lot of people are talking about books.

galluppollSome say the business is easier for authors these days because we’re not shackled to BIG PUBLISHERS, some of whom won’t even consider a book unless it can sell 50,000 copies. So we self-publish and bring out our books through smaller publishers. Unfortunately, our main sources of editorial reviews have declined so there are fewer ways for new and so-called “midlist” authors to reach the public’s consciousness. It wasn’t too many years ago that solid newspaper review sections were written by local editors and staff writers, and–in addition to mainstream authors–covered local and regional authors as well as metro bookstore readings and signings.

In spite of that, readers are finding books. It’s a pity so many of them rely on Amazon and that so many of them think books ought to be free or nearly free. I often argue in this blog that while it’s true that a Kindle file doesn’t have the physical costs behind it that a hardcover book has, it still represents (possibly) a year or so of the author’s life in addition to the expense of editors, cover designers, proofreaders and publicists. As authors, we’re not selling the file: we’re selling what’s in it.

I still prefer printed books because I like the art and craft of them and find them easier to read in bed, in a car, on a bus, on the beach. Plus, I stare at a screen all day, so the last thing I want to do when I relax with a good book is stare at another screen. But that’s me. Reading from a screen is better than not reading. And, as we’re hearing, audiobooks are doing a lot better than most of us would have guessed if we’d been asked about their future ten years ago.

One positive note in this year’s survey over the one done in 2002 comes from the fact older Americans are reading more books than they used to. The poll doesn’t say why, but I like the increase in the numbers. Another thing I can’t tell from the poll is whether (or if) avid readers skew the numbers, making the averages look better than they are. Comparing notes at the end of 2016, another writer and I figured we read almost one book a week. So, do my 52 books per year counteract the answers from 51 people who didn’t read at all? In changing McCoy’s of Star Trek line, my response to that is, “Jim, I’m not a mathematician, I’m just a country storyteller.”

Yes, arts/humanities education is suffering

Every year, I read that one school system or another has further diluted the classroom hours devoted to the arts, what we used to get in courses labeled “Art” and “English” and, sometimes, “Humanities.” This introduction to books and other arts seems indispensable if we want a nation of informed readers, so it’s a pity we’re losing it. I wish those who have national platforms (talk show hosts, actors, singers) would talk about the value of reading. When Oprah’s show was going strong, she did a lot for the country’s authors because she had a popular platform. We need more of that, I think, before diminished exposure to the arts in school finally impacts a future Gallup poll.

Like the long-time literacy-based organization says, Reading is Fundamental. It’s sobering to see on their website that 93 million Americans can’t read well enough “to contribute successful in society.” For people who can’t negotiate all the forms, signs, jobs, news sources and other writing they require for day to day for basic needs, books aren’t even on the radar. I think we need to understand why this is the case before we understand why reading ten or eleven books per year is a pitifully low number for our national average even though the poll says things haven’t gotten worse.

When I served as a literacy volunteer between college and military service, I thought the need was incomprehensibly large and that progress seemed so slow at times, it was like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble. Yet, we can’t stop, can we? I’d like to see a Gallup poll that shows more people not only know how to read, but are reading more books and magazines as well.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical, paranormal, contemporary fantasy and satire novels and and short stories. You can learn more about them on his website here.

So, you’re writing a novel and can’t think of a title for it

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My muse tells me what my titles are going to be, so there it is.

But there are other approaches. Maybe a line out of a poem or your story’s plot in three words or the name of the main character along with a nice key word like “Joe’s Plague” or “Bob’s Dungeon” or “Mary’s Escape.”

booktitleTucker Max says, “The title is the first piece of information someone gets about your book, and it often forms the reader’s judgment about your book. Let’s be clear about this: A good title won’t make your book do well. But a bad title will almost certainly prevent it from doing well.”

Whether you’re shopping on line or in a bookstore, the title and the cover art are the first things you see. Their potential impact on sales is enormous.

Lynne Cantwell’s post in Indies Unlimited surveys a number of authors who have a smorgasbord of ways they come up with titles for their books. For me, it’s fun to see how others do this in case they have a technique worth borrowing.  Since I’m familiar with these authors’ books, it’s also instructive seeing when and how they decide on their titles.

Looking at what successful authors and teachers say about titles seems more reasonable than going to an online book title generator even though the headline of this post makes it look like a software-generated title is best: Book Title Generators: Free Tools To Help You Pick A Winning Title.

Agent Rachelle Gardner writes , “I was talking to a writer who mentioned she hadn’t worked too hard to come up with a great title for her book. When I asked her why, she said she’d been to a workshop taught by an editor at a major publishing house, who said, ‘Don’t get too attached to your title — there’s a good chance the publisher will change it anyway.’” Perhaps there’s some truth in that if you’re going with a big New York publisher. But most of us aren’t.

She quickly adds that you need to start with your best possible title even if you’re presenting the book to agents and editors who might ultimately suggest you change it. She follows that up with links to her post called How to Title Your Book.

Everyone who sees your book from beta reader to freelance editors to publishers will be impacted by your title. It shows them a lot about your intentions when it’s paired with your synopsis and/or sample chapter. So, what’s in a name?

Almost everything.

–Malcolm

Campbell’s Kindle books “At Sea,” “College Avenue,” and “Lady of the Blue Hour” will be free on Amazon on Black Friday. Click here for my website which has links to the books at the top of my home page.

Getting comfortable in your writing shoes

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Comfortable doesn’t mean complacent. If you hike or climb mountains, you know that new shoes often hurt and need to be broken in before a major trek. The wrong kind of shoes and the wrong size shoes are often worse because the shoes have to match what you’re doing. The same thing is true of writers, figuratively speaking, because while genres and styles have a lot of things in common, each requires an approach you need to be comfortable with.

oldshoesDepending on which survey you look at, romance, action/adventure, science fiction and fantasy usually sell the most books. Unfortunately, some of the sub-genres in those groupings aren’t carried on the coattails of the most popular books.

For me, that means magical realism–which is what I write–is down at the 2% or 3% range of sales. Obviously, the the size of a writer’s audience will skew the figures for individual books, though J. K. Rowling discovered that as Snape said to Harry Potter, “fame isn’t everything” affects authors asd well as wizards. (Her fans hated “A Casual Vacancy.)

For me, “comfortable writing shoes” work best with magical realism. They work as poorly for other genres as wearing flip flops or high heels in the world series. To some extent, finding comfortable shoes is part of the journey to being comfortable with oneself. I’ve always wished I could be fluent in multiple language, play a Bach toccata and fugue on a massive pipe organ, water ski all the way across the bay and back without falling off, and knowing how to repair my own cars. After many years of discord about these things, I had to accept that they weren’t me.

I love writing and reading magical realism, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wished I could turn out a great romance or spy novel from time to time to support my magical realism habit. But I can’t do it even though I have enjoyed many spy and FBI-related novels over the years just as I’ve enjoyed a lot of recordings of Bach over the years. But liking something doesn’t always translate into being good at it–though, it’s a nice start.

The hints and signs about our authentic selves are available for us to see early on, but we either don’t recognize them or actively deny them. Growing up, I spent most of my time out doors or reading about magic. These interests are closely linked in most magical realism. I learned more from nature than I did from school, especially my literature and other English classes. I was a fish out of water in those classes because the approach to writing and the great classics of the written word seemed counterproductive and false to me. I was the worst student in English classes and the most likely to openly defy the teachers.

I had one wonderful writing teacher. He didn’t give us theories, he asked us to write, and then we talked about what worked. This is how most of us learn most of what we know. We try things out. We experiment. Some things fail either because we don’t really like them or aren’t skillful in those areas or are just incompatible with them. Other things work. Finding out why they work is a Nirvana-like experience. You want to shout YES!!!!!!!!!!!!. Learning in this teacher’s class was about the only worthwhile course I had in my English minor in college. In that class, we focused on pure storytelling rather than on an approach better suited to a doctoral dissertation in literary or communications theory.

Like many others, I spent time trying to fit in because when you’re the only one in the class who disagrees with the teacher’s approach, it’s hard not to cave in to the pressure of the rest of the students and the system itself.

Now that I’m not in school–or teaching in one–I don’t have to answer to those who support the system. I can write what I want to write and wear the kinds of shoes and attitudes that fit my chosen genre. I’m comfortable with this now, though I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it in high school and college because I was a rebel when it came to the course syllabus and (as they call them) the expected “learning outcomes.”

I guess it comes down to the fact that I’d rather be happy than rich and I’d rather be comfortable as myself and as a writer than being part of the crowd making the scene at popular parties, bars like the fictional “Cheers,” or being the guy all the girls want to dance with. Life would have been so much easier if I’d figured all this out 40 years ago. So would my writing.

If you’re a writer, you probably know what you love to write even if nobody wants to buy it or Oprah doesn’t call or MGM doesn’t option your novels for movies. If you love writing fiction that catches on with huge numbers of readers, then that’s a mixed blessing. Financially, you’ll be secure, but as Snape said, “fame isn’t everything.” Fame tends to get in a person’s way and keep them from wearing their most comfortable shoes.

–Malcolm

ewkindlecoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” a folk magic story set in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s. 

Speaking of shoes, Campbell still wears the climbing boots he bought in the 1960s even though his knees really complain if he tries to climb anything higher than an ant hill.