The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Strange Fruit: What the Sunshine State Didn’t Advertise

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Click on graphic for more information

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

by Abel Meeropol, set to music and sung by Billie Holiday and others

I cannot hear this song or read this poem without feeling an overwhelming amount of rage. This doesn’t mean I hate the South or dislike Florida where I grew up. I love the land, the folklore, and most of the people there past and present.

As an outsider who came to Florida just in time to start the first grade there, I knew nothing about the Civil War or racism, much less the fact that the Sunshine State had a very active and violent KKK and was near the top of the list for African American lynchings. Discovering this was, I think, my childhood loss of innocence.

Perhaps that’s why I felt so betrayed. Even in the first grade, I heard about the wonders of Florida. I saw them, too. We lived near a national forest, the Gulf Coast, multiple sinks and lakes and blackwater rivers, and–other than the cockroaches, palmetto bugs, mosquitoes and sandspurs–it was a paradise in many ways. I think I first heard about Blacks when the kids in my segregated school called me “a nigger lover” because I didn’t have a Southern accent and was obviously an outsider. They called me a Yankee even though I tried to point out that Oregon (where we moved from) wasn’t part of the “North” in Civil War terms.

The South is still paying for the worst frruit it had to offer: it’s mocked by everybody for its accents and customs and presumed to be the bastion of racial discord. I resent all this because mocking the South has become what many “good liberals do” because it’s just so easy even though some of the worst that racism has brought us did not happen in the South, and other parts of the country have distinctive accents as well.

The title “Strange Fruit,” of course, is especially apt and paradoxical in Florida as the leader in U.S. citrus production (sorry, California, your output is a fraction of the Sunshine State’s) where good fruit is what we advertise. This song and everything it’s about haunts me more than usual now because racial issues have once again become so divisive and have spawned a lot of hatred, misdirected and otherwise. I had hoped we were done with the hatred, unfairness and violence, but it appears that we’re not and so everything we thought we had fixed (or at least were making better) is still bearing strange fruit.

I have written two novels about Florida’s racism as I saw it as a grade school child in the 1950s. Yes, they are magical realism and some people call them folktales. But they’re not fairy tales. So, let’s not mince words: I’m writing about the strange fruit that poisoned even the best of people and further solidified the deplorable evil of those long-since gone bad.

As I grew older, of course I was more aware of the news coverage (when things got too bad for the media to ignore) about racial incidents. That was part of my continuing loss of innocence. But most of what I know came from the stories of an African American lady down to road who treated me like family, from delivering telegrams and hearing people’s stories in African American neighborhoods most white people avoided, and from the good people, Whites and Blacks, who had the courage to speak the truth and risk waking up to find burning crosses in their front yards.

Nightmares about the KKK were a fact of my young life, another cultivar of hatred’s strange fruit.  We all hear about more strange fruit in the daily news. I wish more people saw it for what it was rather than planting the seeds and cultivating it, for it’s making all of us sick and still killing a lot of people. There’s no excuse for it.



‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’ is on sale today

The Kindle edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat is on sale for 99¢ today (10/21/16). Already read it? Great. Then perhaps you’ll like the sequel, Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Meet the Critters in the Books

  • Hinny – The offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. Conversely, a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.
  • Scrub Chicken – An old wiregrass region name for the gopher tortoise which was once hunted for food. During the Depression, the tortoise was also called a “Hoover Chicken.” The tortoise lives primarily in pine woods habitats and is considered endangered. According to Florida folklore, the gopher tortoise resulted when the Devil tried to make a turtle to impress God, the result being a land-based reptile without the turtle’s love of water.
  • Squinch Owl – Screech Owl.
  • Swamp Booger – A tall, bad-smelling bigfoot-like creature that lives in the northwest Florida swamps that stems from a Euchee Indian legend.
  • Two-Toed Tom – A huge, legendary alligator feared by residents along the Alabama-Florida border in the early 1900s, and said to be still on the prowl many years later. It was reportedly fourteen feet long, suspected of eating cattle and mules, and assaulting women. His left front foot was missing all but two of its toes, the result of being caught in a steel trap.


If you’re a writer, how much snake oil have you bought this year?

“During a gold rush, sell shovels.”  – Sam Brannan, San Francisco, 1848

If you’re rushing out to look for gold, you really do need a shovel. However, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that most of the people who sold shovels made more money than most of the people  who searched for gold.

snakeoil1The invention of the e-book and print-on-demand publishing has created a gold rush for those who want to write novels. In fact, it appears that more people are writing novels than reading novels. This led to a glut of snake oil salesmen/saleswomen.

Actually, most of the salesmen/women aren’t selling real or imagined snake oil for whatever ails you. They are selling recipes, step-by-step plans, tricks and tips, and inspiration for whatever real or imagined diseases are ailing your books and your promotion efforts. Some of the deals might work. Some might be a collection of bits and pieces of other deals. Some cost more money than your book is likely to make even if they do help.

Since most people believe they’re less gullible than the people who lived during the patent medicine era, today’s writing/promotion tips sales people have ramped up the look and feel of their websites, e-mail and Facebook promotions so that the whole shebang looks more professional than Clark Stanley’s liniment advertisement.

Nonetheless, a lot of it still looks like snake oil to me even if no snakes were harmed during the preparation of the dreck being peddled to writers who want a quick fix. It’s amazing to me how so many people think a single e-book, podcast, webinar or course will turn them into Nora Roberts or Stephen King with the promotional power of Harper/Collins getting the books out into the world. So, they roll the dice and after everything is said and done, their Kindle and CreateSpace books still aren’t finding many readers.

Perhaps, I’m wrong. Maybe people are more gullible than I thought, for some of the “deals” I’ve seen promise you, for example, that you can turn out books without doing any writing, learn a couple of secrets and become a bestselling author, or learn more in a few hours than what a professional book publicist learned in a lifetime of education, experience, and hard work.

awpYes, do your research. Google any publisher or platform you’re thinking about using and see what people are saying about it. Take advantage of some of the free or minimal-cost books that show you step-by-step how to format and convert a DOCX file into a Kindle book. Check Indies Unlimited for how-to articles. See what the going rates are for professional editors and cover artists. If you’re active on the social media, ask others (other than sales people) what kinds of services, books and ideas they found helpful. You’ll also find ideas at Poets & Writers and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Sometimes, nobody is really sure–including publishing experts–why some books take off and others don’t. If you read a lot of writing magazines and writers’ blog posts, you’ll inevitably come across lists of famous authors whose books were rejected multiple times before their now-famous first novel found a publisher. Now, the rules are changing and many of us are part of a continuous gold rush, so to speak, to write good stuff that finds an audience when too many people are turning out books.

Once upon a time, most of the writers’ advice out there was about writing, whether you majored in English, went for an MFA, or read a series of textbooks on your own. Then, one learned how to write queries letter that were sent to agents and/or publishers, a synopsis of their book (if fiction) or a proposal (if nonfiction), and how to create a resume of strong writing credentials–and subject-matter credentials as well if you wanted to write nonfiction.

All of that still happens. But most people feel that route is a long wait or a dead end and jump straight into self-publishing along with millions of other people. The writing snail oil people are trying to convince you that what they offer will give you an edge over the rest of the crowd. Sure, some teachers, mentors and gurus know the latest versions of what works as of now, but they are hard to find.

Yes, I’m a cynic about this, and that means I want to know I’m getting something of value before I pay $99 for a book of secrets or $499 for a webinar. What I often ask webinar producers is this: why are you selling your secrets in a chatty, A/V presentation rather than putting them in a paperback book that sells for 99₵ or even $2.99 or $15.99 (with a look inside feature on Amazon so I can see what the introduction and table of contents look like? They never say, “Well, Malcolm, I’m selling snake oil and the higher the price, the more I make and the more the buyers think it’s worth.”

On the other hand, that $499 webinar might help you strike it rich.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s new novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman” has a snake in it, but no snake oil. 



How to Get Paperback Books into Libraries

“Indie authors and publishers think a lot about getting books into libraries. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a rite of passage, or a holdover of the older, traditional publishing industry. Or maybe, as in my case, it’s the awkward silence when asked, ‘Can I check out your book from the library?'”

Source: How to Get Paperback Books into Libraries – Indies Unlimited

worldcatAs a publisher, Melinda Clayton does her research so that books from Thomas-Jacob (including mine) show up in the places where prospective readers expect to see them.

Like her, the question I usually hear when I publish a new book (other than, “What pages have all the ‘good stuff’ on them?”) is “can I check it out at the library?” For a while, the answer was “yes” because I lived in a small town, worked on a city commission, and knew the librarian. So yes, my books were there.

The thing is, they weren’t in any other libraries. But there’s a way to get them there. Thank you, Melinda.


New Florida Folk Magic Novel Released Today by Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Eulalie and Washerwoman, the sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat, was released today on Kindle where it will take you back to a small Florida Panhandle town where the men are disappearing, their houses are being torn town, and there whereabouts are concealed by dark magic. The paperback edition will be available soon.


Here’s how the story begins. . .

So Eulalie woke precariously from the blues of her dreams into the jaundiced light of the kerosene lantern when a frightful pre-dawn bedlam was visited upon our back porch by a man named William Ochlockonee Tate, a blue-nosed hinny named Minnie, and a Florida water moccasin named Nagaina.  I’m Lena, the cat. Before my conjure woman was awoken by Minnie’s flailing hooves, I dozed blamelessly behind the pot marigolds until they were kicked into the yard.

Willie was in a hurry; as it turned out, the twelfth and thirteenth missing men gave him cause. Minnie had carried him out of the longleaf pine forest behind the house at a fast gallop. Nagaina, who patrolled the grounds between Coowahchobee Creek and the front gate, perceived the quickly rising heat of hinny and human as a threat, coiled her 5.8 cat-lengths of darkness around a porch post and showed Minnie her wide open white mouth.

Minnie spooked, but Willie held on as Minnie’s rear hooves dragged through the ashes of the cook fire knocking over the cast iron pot. The remaining embers spun outward like the spent wishes of dying stars. Since Willie’s urgent profanity was ineffective, Minnie’s front hooves carried both hinny and rider onto the porch where there were collisions with water bowls, the sofa, an open bottle of shine and the pot marigolds. While the porch and its awning were well made, they weren’t meant for such frantic abuse and shook like the world was ending until Eulalie grabbed the teetering lantern, stepped back into her altar room and shouted, “In Solomon’s name, desist.”

Copyright (c) 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Rumpus Interview With Max Porter

“But the dream for later in life, if you want to know, is this: I walk down a garden, and dive into a river. I swim a few hundred yards down the river. I hop out and walk to my wooden shed in among the beech trees. I get dry, brew some coffee, and write until I need to leap into water again. Repeat until oblivion. I don’t even really need for this dream to come true. The thought is enough.”

Source: The Rumpus Interview With Max Porter – The

I like the river dream, and also this: “I don’t want to do anything to violate the gorgeous honor of working on people’s books with them. If at any point my writing life is unbalancing or interrupting the simple (yet richly complex) process of doing my best for an author’s book, then I will have to re-think. And I hope whatever happens, whatever life I’m living, I’ll keep an eye on the commas.”

In addition to the clipped out statements, I find this an interesting and insightful interview. You might like it, too.


‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’ is an Earphones Award Winner

cwcearphonelogoThe audio book edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat, narrated by Wanda J. Dixon, is an Earphones Award Winner on AudioFile Magazine. The review says that “Wanda J. Dixon’s warmth and gorgeous singing voice are superb in this story about Conjure Woman Eulalie, which is told through the voice of her cat and spirit companion, Lena.” (Click on the link to see the rest of the review.)

My publisher and I were especially pleased with Wanda’s narration of the book and are happy to see her work’s recognition through this award.

Conjure Woman’s Cat is also available in e-book and paperback editions.

Meanwhile, my Florida Publisher (Thomas-Jacob) finally has the power turned back on after several days of no Internet, A/C, clean clothes, hot showers, or hot meals. After attending to a roof leak, yard damage, and fresh laundry, Melinda Clayton is now moving ahead rapidly with the upcoming release of the sequel, Eulalie and Washerwoman.

The e-book will be released on Friday, October 14th, with the paperback edition coming along about a week later. Here’s a look a the cover:






Do they still have hurricane parties in Florida?

Hurricane parties used to be all the rage. Lots of drinking. Drunks surfing in the storm surge. Some hosts actually made hurricane cocktails: rum, fruit juice, and grenadine. The party themes were something like this: (a) we’re not scared of the hurricane because we survived the last big one, (b) Think of the stories we’ll have to tell our kids if we make it through the storm, (c) and, more recently, has Jim Cantore gotten here yet.

When I was a kid growing up in Florida, hurricanes excited me. I knew it was wrong to be excited because people lost their lives and a lot of property was damaged. Maybe it was the raw power of nature.

Looking at the news as Matthew approaches Florida, I wonder the same things wondered a half century ago:

  • Since hurricane information is widely known long before a storm arrives, why do people wait until the last minute to buy extra food?
  • Do people throw away their plywood after the hurricane season ends each year? I wonder, because plywood always sells out, making me wonder why nobody saved the plywood they used last year and the year before.
  • Emergency preparedness experts say that those who don’t evacuate should be prepared to survive alone in their homes for at least 72 hours. Yet, people seem unprepared. Nobody seems to think the BIG ONE is going to hit this year, so they don’t stock up on extra batteries, bottled water, snacks that can be prepared with no power or with a camp stove, and other essentials.
  • Why do families buy 50 loaves of bread when a hurricane approaches. Sure, sandwiches are easy, but how much bread can one possibly eat?
  • There’s usually a run on camp stoves. Since this always happens, one wonders why so few people don’t consider buying them in advance and having them ready.
  • When a hurricane is aiming at the state–something people knew for many days in advance–why are all those cars backed up at gas stations (a day before it arrives) which are selling out of fuel? Why not gas up the car sooner? Nobody knows.

I don’t live in Florida any more, but I still remember all the storm activity that happened every season as people watched the news for imminent threats. So, while I still wonder why more folks don’t get ready sooner than they do, my thoughts are with those in harm’s way, especially those who live along Florida’s east coast, Savannah and Charleston.

Stay safe if you haven’t evacuated.




The Sexist Big Reveal: Elena Ferrante

“Anonymity allowed Elena Ferrante to make art in a misogynistic world. A male journalist took that away from her.”

Source: The Sexist Big Reveal | New Republic

I enjoy Ferrante’s novels. The fact that they were written under a pen name and that nobody other than a few people, including her publisher, knew her real name didn’t bother me. What does bother me is that a misguided journalist named Claudio Gatti believes he has discovered her real name and has published his claim.

He justifies his action with lame rationale such as “public’s right to know” and (possibly) to lay to rest the fact so many people (including himself, it seems) thought no woman could write like she did: hence, let’s prove she’s a woman.

Gatti needs to retire and go to some noxious purgatory where he can discover how to atone for his sins.



Old buildings, old trees and the flow of time


I took this picture of a portion of the farm where my wife grew up before we built a house that now occupies the foreground of this picture, starting at those lilies and stumps and ending back behind where I was standing.

Before we moved in, a tornado destroyed two of the ancient trees, the one in the background on the left and the one directly behind the well. Since moving in, we’ve restored the smokehouse (center) and the well next to it. Past the tree on the right is an old tractor garage with a working Ford tractor in it. We’ve also shored it up with repairs to the roof and the back wall.

While waiting for the editor and the cover artist to finish their work on my upcoming novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, I’ve been moving wood and siding out of the garage and hauling them back to that rusty chicken house in the background. Why was the wood and siding in there?

Smokehouse as it looks now

Smokehouse as it looks now. It’s still filled with a hundred Mason jars which have been there for about 60 years or so.

From time to time, our house builder said he was about to call the dumpster company and have them haul way unused lumber and siding and that if we wanted it, we had to grab it quick. The tractor garage was the closest place to stash it. But now we want to use that space for other things: our riding mower hardly fits into it and we’d like to move some tools and stuff out of the garage of our house out there to free up space.

The riding mower and its wagon have been earning their keep for the past several days as I hauled multiple loads of fence wire, old tractor parts, old milk crates, and all that wood and siding back to the chicken house. The chicken house is already a treasure trove of lumber my wife’s father stored there over the years, long after the chickens were gone.

In time (if we sit and watch it), the chicken house–part of which was burned in a fire years ago–will fall down. We’ve already had a corner post or two replaced. We certainly have enough lumber and tin to shore it up and re-do the siding. We don’t yet know what we’ll use the space for, but it’s sad to watch nature take its course and see buildings created by the four generations of family who owned this far before Lesa and I moved here go to greater ruin.

If I were 35 or 45 years old, I probably could have hauled everything out of the tractor garage during a long weekend. However, while I’m not older than dirt, these buildings, or these ancient trees, I’m too old to move fast, carry a lot, or work long hours.

But, cleaning out the tractor garage has been a nice diversion with a purpose more meaningful than playing games on Facebook or drinking beer in a backyard hammock. The flow of time is as relentless as a river, but it can be slowed down without resorting to magic or time travel or multiple universes. One day, perhaps, I’ll write a post about our restored chicken house and you’ll think, why did you restore it?

And I’ll say, “for nostalgia with a modicum of practicality.”


“Eulalie and Washerwoman” is the sequel to “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” The farm is in northwest Georgia near the city of Rome where I worked in the 1970s.


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