Tag Archives: books

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

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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

 

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

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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

 

Review: ‘The Man Without a Shadow’ by Joyce Carol Oates

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The Man Without a ShadowThe Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a brief illness destroys Elihu Hoopes’ short-term memory, he becomes frozen in time. Long term, he thinks he’s still the age he was when he became ill. Short term, he lives in the now of 70-second bursts of knowledge about what he’s doing and who he’s with. What he’s doing is living with a relative and coming to the university for testing intended to advance scientific knowledge about memory loss. This knowledge will help everyone but Elihu because he will probably never get any better.

In many ways, this novel reads like nonfiction with short scenes depicting the psychological testing Hoopes undergoes almost daily. As the novel proceeds, we learn more about the brilliant young researcher Margot Sharpe who begins work at the lab while working on her degree. She stays on. She becomes three-dimensional to the reader, but–we might speculate–one-dimensional to herself. And that one dimension appears to be an obsession with her “patient.”

The novel’s short scenes, with Oates’ typical reliance on up-close detail, tend to mimic Hoopes’ periods of contiguous present-day memory. As a person with a continuing existence, other characters (and the reader) know more about his life than he does–except for the past which for him is always yesterday. He sees others aging but is not aware he is aging.

As one reads, one suspects Sharpe’s life is in danger of losing it’s wholeness. She’s becoming famous for her brilliance as a researcher while becoming more single minded in her devotion to Hoopes. She questions not only the ethics of the testing, but also her own ethics wherein her feelings for Hoopes begin to look like a one-sided fantasy which has a history for her but not for him. He seems to have some consciousness of her over time even though she has to introduce herself every time she sees him–even if she leaves the room for a minute.

The opening lines of the novel tell you where all this is going:

“Notes on Amnesia Project ‘E.H.’ (1965-1996).
“She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
“She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
“She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
“At last, she says good-bye to him, thirty-one years after they’ve first met. On his deathbed, he has forgotten her.”

It’s a bumpy ride. Some readers will get lost with the repetition of the testing scenes, while others might find their eyes glazing with the titles of the scholarly papers that arise out of what Sharpe and her colleagues learn. Others will enjoy the exploration of Hoopes’ and Sharpe’s loneliness and how their fragmented lives fit together, and then they don’t, and then fit together, and then they don’t, rather like a jigsaw puzzle in a windstorm.

With diligence, and an ability to live only within the present moment while reading, readers will discover this book has something profound to offer them.

View all my reviews

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of paranormal, magical realism, and contemporary fantasy.

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.

Review: ‘The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto’

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The Magic Strings of Frankie PrestoThe Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mitch Albom’s words and the songs they play in “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” comprise a “Pure Perfect Fifth,” a term related to an ancient system of musical tuning that has been linked to alchemy and the transformation of souls. Narrated by Music himself, this tale about an orphan from Villareal, Spain who becomes the best guitar player in existence is the quintessence of a well-told tale accompanied by the music of the spheres and the wisdom of many players.

Frankie’s mentor, known as El Maestro, reveres composer and guitarist Francisco Tárrega, teaches the classics, demands constant practice, and tells his young student to respect his left hand by keeping the nails trimmed so that the sensitive fingertips feel the pain of every note. They begin with Tárrega’s “Lágrima” (teardrop), and that song becomes a fitting leitmotiv throughout the novel.

Frankie can play it all, from the free strokes and rest strokes of Spanish guitar, to every standard rock and roll chord progression, to the worried notes of the twelve-bar blues. Though Frankie Presto plays a guitar with magic strings, his life is almost pure blues, pure “Lágrima.”

He is forever haunted by the violent unknowns of his childhood, people who suddenly go missing, the comings and goings of fame and not fame, his lover Aurora’s long absences, injuries and penances, and the on-going conflict between a beautiful voice that makes him rich and a guitar technique that nourishes his soul. Once, when he told El Maestro he wanted to be perfect as both a singer and a guitar player, Le Maestro said that both was the same as neither.

Frankie is forever running and forever searching. Through it all, his music leads him while he feels the pain of every note. Near the beginning of Albom’s novel, we learn that Frankie is dead, that we are standing around before the funeral talking with Music about Frankie’s life through a Chroma-filled remembrance that includes all his sharps and flats and rests. His story is filled with mystery, too, the unexpected riffs that come out of nowhere like the here-and-gone notes of a jam session, moments that fall together that had seemed separate, and a hidden continuity Frankie doesn’t know about until late in life. The unexpected arises again and again in different keys from the walking base line that drives the story measure by exceptional measure. And he wonders, is this gig destined synchronicity or perfectly orchestrated manipulation. He will have to decide that before the plays his last song.

By the end of the novel, with the help of an all-wise narrator and the testimonies of those who knew him in ages past, Frankie knows everything about himself and his magic strings, why things happened as they did, and the blessings of music as his song resolves into a coda of joy with a lasting counterpoint of “Lágrima.”

–Malcolm

View all my reviews

Gifting a book to a good home

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What do you do when it’s time to downsize your personal library? I suppose you can sell some of the books on eBay or Amazon, but most  buyers at these outlets won’t pay more than a few pennies over shipping costs. That’s certainly not the fate most of us want for the older editions of niche books and classics.

Click on the graphic to see a newer edition on Amazon

Click on the graphic to see a newer edition on Amazon

A Facebook friend of mine used her intuition plus a healthy dose of reality based on the subjects I’ve discussed on my blogs about the research I’d been doing for two folk magic novels. She sent me a message telling me she was thinning out her library and thought she had a book that needed to be in mine. Would I take it in. It was an adoption, I thought even though I’d have to wait and see what it was.

Of course, when it comes to adopting pets, we seldom say we’ll adopt a pet without knowing what it is; nobody wants to be contemplating a regal cat or a playful puppy and have a tiger snake or an alligator show up. But, knowing S___, I didn’t think I’d end up with anything like those living books in the Harry Potter series that have teeth and are always angry when the wrong person tries to read them.

Her intuition was spot on. She sent me the 1938 original edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse, an anthropological study of Voodoo in Haiti and Jamaica blurbed by Carl Sandburg, no less, with words like “bold,” “beautiful,” “priceless,” and “unforgettable.” The New York Times said of it, “Strikingly dramatic, yet simple and unrestrained…an unusual and intensely interesting book richly packed with strange information.”

I’ve read a lot of Hurston’s work from her novel Their Eyes We Watching God to her news coverage of the unfairly conducted 1952 Florida murder trial of Ruby McCollum to stories and books like Mules and Men collected while she was gathering hoodoo and other Florida folklore for the Works Progress Administration’s (1935-1943) Federal Writers Project. But Tell My Horse wasn’t in my library until yesterday afternoon at 4 p.m. when the mail arrived.

I know little about Voodoo (a religion), having mostly researched hoodoo (folk magic) except when I’ve stumbled across accounts out of New Orleans about notables such as Marie Laveau. So, I will enjoy reading this study about a related subject from one of my favorite authors; I’ll treasure the book and my highly intuitive Facebook friend who gifted it to me. I don’t know how long she had the book. When I told her Tell My Horse arrived, she said, “I knew you’d give it a good home. It languished with a friend of mine who was an antiquarian bookseller, until I found it in a dusty corner. I came to her through the experimental film of Maya Daren who was allowed to film and participate in voodoo rituals as Hurston did in her medium. It is a great relief to find her a place to thrive.”

S___, the book won’t languish in a dusty corner and, if you happen to stumble across this blog, I love you for your spirit of adventure, your kindness and your wonderful gift.

Now I know a good way to send my old books off into the world before they take over the house (my wife says they already have). Like Tell My Horse, many of my books are older than I am and will need loving homes rather than moldy basements and dusty attics.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two, Florida folk magic novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

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.