Tag Archives: Novels

How often do you re-read your old books?

  1. Never because I don’t know where they are.
  2. Once in a while whenever I can get them away from the dog.
  3. Whenever I find then hidden at the houses of friends who “borrowed” them.
  4. Are you crazy, who has time to re-read old books when so many new books are published?
  5. Whenever my stack of new books runs out and the next Amazon shipment is days away.

My answer to this hastily thrown together set of questions is #5. When I read a great book the first time, I think, “I’ll remember all of this forever.” When I re-read it ten or twenty years later, I’m amazed at how much I’d forgotten.

Biltmore House Library

Returning to a favorite book is like having a new conversation with an old friend. I don’t re-read books as often as literature professors because many of them read books again every time they teach them in a course. While some literary criticism is interesting, I seldom read it, even when it focuses on the books on my selves I like the best. I don’t like being skewed away from my impressions of a book over time by reading what others have said them.

My favorite room at Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore House is the library. My library wouldn’t look this good because I buy mostly paperbacks. They don’t wear as well or look as nice on shelves that climb all the way to the ceiling. As it turns out, some of my paperbacks are so old that the pages fall out when I read them. Suffice it to say “Perfect Binding” (the style used for most paperbacks) isn’t perfect. The glue deteriorates over time.

I’ve probably re-read this series of novels more often than any other. Fortunately, my copy isn’t as beaten up as this old edition on Amazon.

I doubt that any of my old books are worth a lot of money, so you won’t see my name attached to a newsworthy sale of a book at a famous auction house. In addition to the favorites I’ve owned for years, the most dear are those that were once owned by my parents or grandparents. They speak to other times and other places, but re-reading them occasionally is almost like a psychic experience because my imagination tells me what my relatives thought and felt when they once read the words I’m seeing years later.

Every time I re-read a book, I discover something new about the story or about me. Sometimes I remember where I was when I first read it. Sometimes I’m disappointed because I no longer like the story and I see that I’ve changed from the person I was when I thought it was the best thing I read “that year.” However, the books I turn to again and again are always a special pleasure because through luck or magic or the author’s skill, they have kept their excitement, sense and relevance.

Perhaps some of you have found some of the same things to be true whenever you took an old book off a shelf and enjoyed it again.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Mountain Song,” and “At Sea” in addition to numerous Kindle short stories.



Florida Legends: The man who could turn into an alligator


One of my favorite stories out of the Federal Writers Florida Folklore project, is the one about Uncle Monday collected by the author Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s. Among other places, it appears in “Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales” by Kristin G. Congdon.

Uncle Monday was a powerful conjure man who brought his magic from Africa. He was sold into slavery. When he escaped, he joined up with the Seminole Indians to fight against federal troops. He vowed that he would never be taken captive and enslaved again.

ewgatorDuring a ceremony at Blue Sink Lake in central Florida held by Africans and Indians, Uncle Monday danced and transformed into an alligator and plunged into the lake with all the other alligators. He is said to live there even now and to change into a man again when it suits his fancy. At the end of the day, though, he returns to the lake and, as Congdon writes in her rendition, folks “feel more comfortable with Uncle Monday home in the waters with his reptile family.”

If you search on line, you’ll probably find a number of tales about the alligator man, one of which relates the story of one Judy Bronson of Maitland who claimed she was a more powerful conjure doctor than anyone else. One night when she was fishing at Blue Sink, she saw Uncle Monday walking across the water in a beam of light with an army of gators.

She tried to escape, but her legs wouldn’t function. Uncle Monday told her she would stay right there until she admitted that her magic wasn’t as powerful as his. This was the last thing she wanted to do, but she had no choice. When she confessed she could not do such magic, she was carried back to her house. Soon, she threw away her conjure bottles, candles and herbs and claimed that she fell ill on the shore of Blue Sink and that Uncle Monday cured her.

As Congdon writes, “Folks will try to tell Judy that she only suffered a stroke and fell in the lake, but she knows better.”

Since I’ve read more than one story about this man, I couldn’t resist mentioning him in my Florida folk magic novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, along with other legends such as the giant gator named Two-Toed Tom, the Swamp Booger, and the ghost from Bellamy Bridge near Marianna.



When you read a novel, do you identify with the protagonist?


I find it difficult to enjoy a novel if I don’t find some kind of connection or identification with the protagonist, even if that person has a dark side I don’t like or is otherwise very different than me.

If the protagonist is a man, I note ways we’re the same or that we’re faced similar questions or heartaches. If the protagonist is a woman, I note whether this is the kind of woman I would like to know, or have known, or perhaps simply respect.

How about you? Do you look for this connection? Do you feel a sense of admiration when the protagonist solves a problem, deals with an issue, gets past a bad habit, or discovers new meanings in life that are one way or the other similar to issues you’ve dealt with–or are still dealing with?

If so, I think we have a lot of company here, putting ourselves into the main characters’ shoes in one novel after another. Maybe we end up feeling inspired or less alone with the trials and tribulations that plague us. Maybe we feel better about ourselves when a main character makes the same kinds of mistake we’ve made or finds solutions to problems similar to those we’ve discovered.

As a writer, I hope to create characters that make readers feel this sense of identification. Partly, those feelings draw you into the story and keep you reading. And partly they might leave you with something more than a good read when you finish the book.

When I think of the novels that I’ve liked best over the years, I see there’s always something that drew me to the main character–for better or for worse. While reading, I was–in a sense–walking in his or her shoes.

Stories gives us many examples of others puzzling out the vicissitudes of life whether those people live in the distant past or the far-off future. The stories don’t become recipes so much as they become ideas, possibilities, or prospective ways to dealing with what we’re dealing with.

I love a novel than ends up seeming like it was sort of about my kinds of dreams and concerns. You might think of what you know about me and what you know about the main character in the novel I’m reading and see a night and day difference. But, as long as I keep reading, you can bet I’ve found some kind of a connection there.



Thanks for the editors


At this very moment, an editor is going over the manuscript for Thomas-Jacobs Publishing’s re-release of my contemporary fantasy Sarabande. I’m glad she is. She sees what I cannot see along with inconsistencies and goofs I wouldn’t recognize if I did see them.

Note: none of my editors look like this.

Note: none of my editors look like this.

I could blame my cataract surgery for making my right eye see so much better than I need new glasses to read the words on the screen. (My old glasses are now too strong.)

However, if my editor sees this post, she can remind me (and all of you) that I was overlooking a lot of typos before the surgery.

Sometimes my wife reads over things I’ve written that I think are error free. Nope. She was a newspaper editor so she catches a lot of stuff.

So does my publisher, but she likes to check and double-check, so an editor reads my stuff after she reads my stuff. It must be a fact of life that a writer can go over his or her work a hundred times and guess what? It’s still waiting for the editor’s red pen.

Unfortunately, the red pen is gone. My wife and I are old school: we grew up editing copy (news copy) on a double spaced printout. I find more errors this way than I do when looking for typos and missing punctuation on the screen. I have to admit that Word’s Revision/Markup makes it easy for publishers and editors and writers to communicate over time about manuscript corrections.

But I still prefer edits on paper. My eyes are attuned to the page rather than the screen. Even so, I miss a lot. You probably do, too, whether you edit on the screen or print out a hard copy and look for your favorite pencil.

That’s why I firmly believe everything should go through an editor even though it’s not always easy to arrange this in today’s Kindle Direct Publishing world. If your spouse didn’t work for a newspaper, at least get your pets to review everything before you hit the “Save and Publish” button.

Thanks Lesa (wife), Smoky (editor) and Melinda (publisher).


TSScoverjourneysMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” a contemporary fantasy that is currently on sale on Kindle.



Listen, writers, this is gospel or my name’s not John Doe


A Facebook friend of mine claims that every story you want to write is sitting “out there” in limbo or maybe Topeka waiting for you to discover it, copy it into a DOCX file, and send it off to HarperCollins for $1000000000000000.

Does that sound crazy or what?

actorsFar be it from me to dispute it because the gospel truth is stranger than fiction. Working writers use meditation, dreams, magic, quantum entanglements and whiskey to meet with their characters once a month and talk about stories. Think of these people as, not beta readers, but beta writers.

Every one of them has ideas. Like actors, they all want to direct. These meetings are like casting calls (when you have a new story to write), brainstorming sessions (when one of them wants to run an idea of the flagpole) or encounter groups (when the sock puppets get out of control).

It’s completely safe because weapons are checked at the front door and watched over by a guy who looks like Dirty Harry. If you get too close to the guns, he says, “Well, you gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky punk?”

theoaksI meet with my characters at a seafood joint called The Oaks in Panacea, Florida. The real Oaks has been closed for years, but with powerful meditation techniques and/or a shot of Scotch, the place returns out of the Ochlockonee River mist with the same reality that Brigadoon appeared to Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas in the Scottish Highlands.

Since Eulalie (Conjure Woman’s Cat) is the best cook, she fixes fried mullet, hush puppies and slaw for the crowd while we shoot the breeze over old times, swap recipes for cathead biscuits and saw mill gravy, and stay away from the guy guarding the weapons.

Last night, Eulalie asked how her next story was coming along and I had to tell her it was running behind schedule. Emily (Emily’s Stories) said I promised her she could look for ghosts at the old Perkins Opera House in Monticello, Florida. “I know where it’s hiding,” she said.

nogunsRuby (The Seeker) wanted to know why she didn’t didn’t have a part in Snakebit. “Anne and I are like family,” she reminded me. “Who the hell do I have to sleep with to get another story?”

Laurence Adams (The Sun Singer) showed up even though his story doesn’t take place in Florida and said, “If you had finished writing another story set in Glacier National Park, it would be selling like hot cakes this summer during the hotel’s 100th anniversary. Please tell me you people aren’t eating mullet. High class Floridians don’t even eat mullet.”

You can see why we check our weapons at the door.

Okay, here’s what you do.

  1. meditationChoose a real place for your meeting. Make sure the owners (if any) don’t know about the meeting.
  2. If you know the names of your characters or prospective characters, write them on a piece of paper in blood (hopefully not yours) and bury it (the paper) in a deserted graveyard while nobody’s watching. If you are looking for fresh ideas, include words like “Chainsaw Killer,” “Honest Lawyer,” and “Sexy Vixen.”
  3. Steal somebody’s meditation techniques off the Internet and suddenly feel like your eyes are getting tired, that your brainwaves are entering the alpha state, and that you can “see” your meeting hall filling up with wonderful people and probably a feel wannabees. (Don’t over-do the meditation and go into a stupor.)
  4. Check all weapons.
  5. After finishing your favorite foods and beverages, ask your current and prospective characters if they believe stuff like “every story you want to write is sitting ‘out there’ in limbo or maybe Topeka waiting for you to discover it, copy it into a DOCX file, and send it off to HarperCollins for $1000000000000000.”
  6. When they say, “Does that sound crazy or what?” tell them you’re ready to hear some better ideas. Listen carefully with an open mind and an open heart. (This means not saying, “Hey, dirtbag, what kind of bozo idea is that.”)
  7. tonightshowNow, listen, writers, this is gospel or my name’s not John Doe: When you come out of your meditation (assuming you come out of it), you will have the best darned ideas for the best darned stories in the best of all possible worlds.
  8. This is important: Don’t discuss your new idea with anyone specially friends and family for they’ll share it with everyone and before you know it, some clown from Chicago or Miami will be sitting in a chair on the “Tonight Show” telling the world about YOUR BOOK. Well, it would have been your book if hadn’t blabbed the storyline to people who can’t keep a secret.
  9. Write the thing. Then give Jimmy Fallon a call. I know, I know, he’s no David Letterman or Johnny Carson, but he’s probably good for couple hundred grand in sales.

There you go.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)99centsMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Jim Crow era novella, “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” which is on sale on Kindle today (July 18th) for only 99 cents. Eulalie claims she gets a 50% cut of the action or else.



Review: ‘Lost Lake’ by Sarah Addison Allen


Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, January 21, 2014, paperback January 6, 2015), 304 pp.

lostlakeKate Pheris is waking up after the worst year of her life, the year she lost her husband and almost lost herself while her young daughter Devin waited for life to begin again and her mother-in-law Cricket orchestrated their future like a puppeteer with an agenda stronger than love.

But older ties are stronger even though they might have seemed forever lost.

Kate and Devin serendipitously discover a fifteen-year- old postcard in the attic while getting ready to move to Cricket’s house where neither of them wants to be: Greetings from Lost Lake, Georgia: a Magical Experience. Sent by Kate’s great-great-aunt Eby after Kate’s best summer ever at the ramshackle cabins our of another era in South Georgia, the card stirs up old hopes and memories.

Kate’s never seen the card before. Her mother, who had a falling out with Eby that summer, hid it away along with its message, “You’re welcome to come back anytime you’d like.”

It’s too late, isn’t it? Lost Lake and Eby are probably long gone. Yet, Lost Lake really isn’t that far from Atlanta. What if Kate and Devin drive down there and look?

While Cricket organizes the future she wants with indomitable and merciless force, Lost Lake suggests possibilities with a gentle touch, one that pulls on the heartstrings of those who have come back for one last summer before Eby sells the place she can no longer afford to keep and flies away to see the world.

The book features a cast of memorable characters and–inasmuch as this novel is magical realism–a magical setting. Everyone who arrives to say goodbye to Eby and Lost Lake is looking for something, and they all have their secrets and their losses.

Like an oasis that’s almost visible for one moment and gone the next, the magic and the synchronicity of the setting are deftly handled by Allen (Garden Spells The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper), adding mystery and, perhaps, a sense of hope that a seemingly lost future is not altogether lost.

One cannot read Lost Lake without noting a certain predictability in the plot and the syrup of sentimentality it the developing themes and coming-out-of-hiding histories of the characters. One can say the same thing about It’s a Wonderful Life.  Nonetheless, movie viewers return to It’s a Wonderful Life every year at Christmas just as the faithful, if not aging, guests return to Lost Lake every summer.

Lost Lake gives those guests what they’re looking for even though most of them are too stubborn to admit it. Readers may know, or think they know, how Kate’s and Devin’s summer at Lost Lake will end. They may be right. Even so, the book casts a spell that’s impossible to resist.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” set in the Florida Panhandle where folk magic lives deep in the piney woods.



How to destroy the pacing of your story


thrillerNovelists trick us in multiple ways in order to ramp up the suspense of a story. Important facts are concealed, backstories aren’t revealed, and point of view is shifted from one character to another keeping readers outside the head of the person whose thoughts would reveal important clues.

One trick annoys me, probably annoys others, and disrupts the pacing of the story. Let’s call this “hurry up and wait.” Here’s an example:

The Bomb

Joe opened the suitcase. There is was: enough C4 to level the building and a timer with ten seconds left in the countdown. The timer was old, sounded like a plastic clock.

The tick tock, tick tock reminded him of summer evenings at the lake when Dad not only woke him at the crack of dawn, but kept him awake most of the night with a loudly ticking alarm clock. Every time it woke him, he lay there waiting for it to go off in an explosion of bells and sunshine. Before the left the old cabin, he threw that darned clock in the lake, hoping a gator might eat it. He had to smile in spite of the bomb in the suitcase. If Dad were alive and sitting here next to him, he would love the sound of that timer.

When a story is racing toward a critical moment, stopping the action for an absurd reason cheats the reader, for it builds tension where there should already be enough tension to cover the action.  In this example:

  1. No sane person faced with a bomb with just seconds to defuse is going to walk down memory lane in his thoughts. He will run, throw the bomb out a window, or defuse it.
  2. Some novelists don’t pay attention to the time it takes a reader to read a passage. I always note it. In this case, the bomb will explode before Joe finishes his thoughts about the lake and the clock simply because the thought takes more time than he has.

A similar sin, somewhat less grievous, is the insertion of backstory information into a scene where, in reality, there’s no time for it. Now, if you’re a reader or a writer who isn’t concerned with the amount of time thoughts and memories take to occur, this won’t bother you as much as it bothers me. Consider this:

The Highway

Sue lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out the open window of the car. Goodness knows, she was driving fast enough for the wind to draw everything out the window including her soft voice, her hair and the gnats that took over the car while they were parked at a rest stop.

“What are we going to tell our parents when we get there,” she asked.

“If you’ll slow down,” said Jim, “we’ll have more time to come up with an elaborate lie.”

She laughed, looked at him sideways, and punched his shoulder gently.

“I’m eight months pregnant,” she said. “What kind of elaborate lie do you propose.”

Other than how she happened to get pregnant, Sue was forever practical. He preferred jokes and delays and white lies. If he could think of a real whopper, he would resort to that. This road was a highway of lies because it connected their hometown with the beach cottages. Things happened at those cottages. Always had. The road home, lined with saw palmetto and scrub oak and a few longleaf pines, was a fertile ground for fibs, large and small. They literally fell out of the trees. If they’d been fish, they would have jumped into his boat. Sue felt uncomfortable with lies. That’s why she drove down this road faster than the law allowed.

“You’ve been overeating,” he suggested.

Okay, maybe there’s some relevance in the fact Jim uses the road as a time and place for covering up whatever he did at the beach.

  1. Nonetheless, this diversion destroys what was developing as a back-and-forth dialogue of short sentences. The pace one can create with that kind of dialogue gets derailed with the intrusion of a giant paragraph of information.
  2. Plus, I feel like asking the author exactly what Sue is doing while Jim has this multi-sentence thought. Yes, sooner or later such conversations have to end. But not before they’re naturally over.

Pacing can help a writer’s work or destroy it. Sometimes, it’s a matter of personal taste. If you read your stuff aloud, you’ll hear the pacing as surely as you hear the rhythm of a song on the radio. The pace not only needs to feel right, it needs to make logical sense. I think it’s illogical for a man defusing a bomb to think about something else, and I think most people having a conversation would be saying “Jim, Jim, Earth to Jim” before Jim finished his thoughts about the road and the lies he found on it.

Pitch-perfect pacing keeps the thrills in your thriller.

My two cents for a Monday afternoon.