The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

BOOKS: New, On Sale, and Free

New from Smoky Zeidel

redeeninggrace

It’s the early twentieth century, and the tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity.

In the midst of his delusions, Luther believes God has abandoned him and devises a plan to get back into His good graces—a plan that puts both his daughters’ lives in danger and unleashes a frenzy of events that threaten to destroy the entire family.

Will Luther succeed in carrying out his crazed plot against his daughters, or will an unlikely hero step in to rescue them all?

On Sale for 99 cents January 20th from Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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  • History of my Body: Few of the eccentric inhabitants of her father’s Main Line, Philadelphia estate have much time for Fleur Robins, an awkward child with a devotion to her ailing grandfather, a penchant for flapping and whirling, and a preoccupation with God and the void. While her mother spends much of her time with her hand curled around a wine glass and her abusive father congratulates himself for rescuing babies from “the devil abortionists,” Fleur mourns the fallen petals of a rose and savors the patterns of light rippling across the pool. When she fails to save a baby bird abandoned in her garden, a series of events unfold that change everything.
  • Appalachian Justice: Billy May Platte is a half Irish, half Cherokee Appalachian woman who learned the hard way that 1940s West Virginia was no place to be different. As Billy May explains, “We was sheltered in them hills. We didn’t know much of nothin’ about life outside of them mountains. I did not know the word lesbian; to us, gay meant havin’ fun and queer meant somethin’ strange.”
  • Conjure Woman’s CatLena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group. A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds their worlds firmly apart. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores its own brand of order.

Free on Kindle January 18-20

willingspiritsWhen a high school student named Prudence waits until the last minute to write a book report, she finds help from an unlikely source: the dead author. What could possibly go wrong?

The author in question is the famed Patience Worth, the spirit who wrote books and spoke to St. Louis over a century ago through a  Ouija board via medium Pearl Curran until Curran died in 1937. Patience’s voice and her pen have been silent for a long time, waiting for someone who will listen.

 

 

 

Book Bits: NBCC Awards Finalists, Russian PEN protests, Adult nonfiction

BookBitsA few items in the news caught my attention:

  • National Book Critics Circle: “Ann Patchett’s ‘Commonwealth,’ a novel inspired by her own family, and Michael Chabon’s ‘Moonglow,’ a novel based on the life of his grandfather, are among the finalists for this year’s National Book Critics Circle fiction prize. The fiction finalists, announced Tuesday morning, also include ‘LaRose,’ the latest novel about the Ojibwa people of North Dakota by Louise Erdrich, and ‘Swing Time,’ by British novelist Zadie Smith.” – The Washington Post
  • sevlanaRussian PEN: “Nobel prize winner Svetlana Alexievich has quit the Russian PEN centre to protest against the expulsion of journalist and activist Sergey Parkhomenko, joining 30 other writers including novelist Boris Akunin and poet Lev Rubinstein leaving the organisation.” – The Guardian
  • Adult Nonfiction Stayed Hot in 2016 – “The category, still benefiting from the adult coloring book boom, had a 7% print unit gain last year over 2015.” – Publishers Weekly
  • Obituary – ‘Exorcist’ Author William Peter Blatty Has Died – “William Peter Blatty, the novelist and filmmaker best known for The Exorcist, died Thursday in Maryland. He was 89. The New York City native was the author of several acclaimed novels (including Elsewhere, Crazy, and John Goldfarb, Please Come blattyHome) and screenplays (including The Great Bank Robbery, Gunn, Darling Lili, and the early Inspector Clouseau film A Shot in the Dark).” – Flavorwire
  • Interview: Edward Jay Epstein (“How America Lost its Secrets), with Clayton Moore – Once Epstein began re-tracing Snowden’s steps, he started discovering other mysteries—days in Hong Kong when Snowden was unaccounted for, as well as contradictions in his public statements. The journalist found it all perplexing.” – Kirkus

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Kindle novel “At Sea” is free at Amazon January 15-17. His short story “Willing Spirits” is free on Kindle January 18-20.

 

What makes for strong nonfiction?

Traditionally, nonfiction has been a more stable business for authors than fiction because so much of it’s sold via books, magazine articles, newspaper feature stories, and even blog posts.

My mantra in this blog has always been to look at your proposed subject and ask: “What’s in this for the reader?” Unfortunately, people often write about pet subjects and focus on their involvement in them or on the offerings of a museum or other nonprofit without answering this question.

While we may decry Horace Greeley’s advice to a fledgling newspaper man that the reader’s self-interest is a major motivator when subscribers wade through hundreds of stories competing for their time, it’s probably still true.

In her latest Funds for Writers newsletter, author Hope Clark adds another mantra: GREAT NONFICTION = SIMPLIFICATION + CLARITY

As she puts it, “Most people love a strong, educational, how-to book that makes a difference in our lives. Nonfiction is quite popular and can be trendy if the message is strong enough and quite universal. But what makes for great how-to versus the average? What is the magic ingredient for a nonfiction, how-to book that flies off book shelves?”

Her advice reminds me of the UNITY, COHERENCE, EMPHASIS admonition we used to be taught in high school English classes prior to our first term paper assignment. As Knoji  puts it, “A good paragraph has the characteristics of unity, coherence and emphasis. In unity a paragraph must be unified on its structure. In coherence a paragraph must establish continuity within or towards the other paragraph. In emphasis the idea within the paragraph should be given importance and made to stand.”

As a former college journalism instructor, I always asked students to apply the WHO WHAT WHEN WHY WHERE HOW of news reporters to their feature stories and editorials. Basically, the reader needs facts s/he can use in a form in which they can be easily and accurately understood.

And then, before you put the final touches on the article or post, consider this: As the piece stands now, what’s the most likely unanswered question a reader might ask you after finishing this article? If there isn’t one, then you’ve probably covered the basics. If there is, either clarify the piece or add some additional facts.

Case in point about unanswered questions: Recently, there were news reports about an old variety of peanut that was brought to this country during the slavery days from Africa. Over time, it lost out to other varieties even though it had a very distinctive and appealing taste. Using just a few saved seeds, researchers carefully brought the variety back to viable production.

So here’s my unanswered question that the article writer should have addressed: When the peanut died out in the States, did it also die out in Africa where it came from and, if not, why didn’t U.S. researchers simply go there for more seeds?

Unanswered questions in the readers’ minds can easily kill the value of an article, especially in a how-to feature. Sometimes those come out of lack of clarity and sometimes they come out of incomplete research–or when the writer forgets to ask “What’s in this for the reader?”

–Malcolm

 

 

In the spotlight: An old lady vs. the Klan

Today’s spotlight shines on my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat and brings you news of a three-day freebie for my Kindle novel At Sea.

Conjure Woman’s Cat

cwcnoshadowThe old lady, who says she’s older than dirt, is a conjure woman in a small Florida Panhandle town in the 1950s when the Klan in Florida was very strong, in bed with almost everybody in power, including the police, the mayor, and leading businessmen.

So, when a young black woman is raped and murdered by whites on the railroad tracks, there won’t be a police investigation. The minister of the local church doesn’t get involved because he’s afraid his church will get fire bombed at night.

The Klan already burnt Eulalie and her family out once, so she knows what that’s like. But, she’s got magic and guile on hand along with all the herbs a root doctor would ever need.

The story’s a mix of bad stuff, discrimination, lyrical prose and humor. Available in e-book, paperback and audiobook editions.

AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award WinnerWanda 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. Dixon zestfully portrays Eulalie, who is “older than dirt” and is kept busy casting spells, mixing potions, and advising people–that is, when the “sleeping” sign is removed from her door. Most distinctive is Eulalie’s recurring sigh, which conveys her frustration with Florida in the 1950s, when Jim Crow laws and “Colored Only” signs were routine. Dixon’s Lena is fully believable when she spies around town and reports to Eulalie that rednecks have raped and murdered a young women. They almost escape until Eulalie persuades a witness to come forward. Listeners will marvel at the magical realism in this story and benefit from the helpful glossary of the charming local dialect.

Vietnam Navy Novel Freebie

AtSeaBookCoverAt Sea will be free on Kindle January 15 through January 17.

This is a story about a prospective conscientious objector who serves on board an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. The novel is not a book about battles or major military campaigns. Instead, it focuses on the trials of being against the war when everyone else thinks fighting the VC is a good thing, and daily life on the ship and the liberty town bars. As David Ward learns, the letters from home can be nastier than prospective shipboard dangers or the bar girls who want to take his money.

This story is inspired by my experiences on the former carrier U.S.S. Ranger which, sadly, the navy decided to scrap rather than turn into a museum. The ship’s motto during the war was “Top Gun, Bar None.” That was the spirit then and it became more fitting later when movie crews filmed some of the scenes for “Top Gun” on board the ship as it pretended to be the Enterprise. (I wish I’d been there to see that.”

–Malcolm

 

Does the book you’re promoting have a sell sheet?

“Book sell sheets are an essential and integral part of a book’s marketing and publicity plans. For this reason, it is important for you to understand what goes into a great sell sheet. So, to help you get a firm handle on the basics, here is a list of terminology that you will need to know when preparing your sell sheet for your book’s marketing plan.”

Source: Sell Sheet Terminology For Book Marketers

Joseph C. Kunz posted this blog about the importance of sell sheets last fall. I didn’t mention it here at the time because I was working on other things. However, now that I’m actively seeking reviewers for my latest novel, I’ve been updating the sell sheet.

Sell sheets are not a new technique, though I seldom see them written about. Kunz has a good overview. If you want more information, simply type “author’s sell sheet” into your search engine and you’ll get a lot of advice and examples.

I see the sell sheet as indispensable, even if you just paste it into an e-mail and never make printed copies, for giving prospective reviewers, article writers and others a quick capsule look at your book and it’s “vital statistics.”

–Malcolm

Childhood nightmare: misplacing a library book and owning a big fine

In my nightmare, I’m standing before a judge who says, “You’re going directly to jail, not passing GO, or collecting $200″ because you owe (variously) the Leon County Library, the Leon High School Library, or the Florida State University Library system $100000000000 because years ago, you checked out a book and never brought it back.”

This bad dream was based on real life. I always owed fines on library books because (frankly) they (the books) fell between the dresser and the wall, they slid under the car seat, or they were beamed up to the mother ship by aliens from the Delta Quadrant.

I had excuses, but the librarians were cruel.

Main FSU library. I know better than to step inside the front door where the library police will be waiting

Main FSU library. I know better than to step inside the front door where the library police will be waiting

So, it makes my day to read this story out of Seattle: Book returned to Seattle Library more than 40 years overdue, with apology note inside. The book had been written off, wasn’t even in the system any more, so the borrower didn’t owe a $3,700 fine (at o.25 per day).

In my crime dodging fantasy when I was borrowing and randomly returning library books, I wouldn’t have written a note. I would have slid the book under a door, tossed it into the library janitor’s closet, or simply “lawyered up” just in case the principal or the cops showed up.

“Silas Marner? Never heard of it.”

“Your name’s on the library card, son.”

“A forgery, sir. Somebody from the brass section of the band is trying to get the woodwinds in trouble.”

I knew my rights even if I was in the wrong.

So, my hat’s off to this borrower in Seattle who gave the book back to the library and said s/he was sorry. I seldom wear a hat anyway, but it’s the thought that counts. As for me–if my nightmares are correct–the library police in Tallahassee, Florida and Syracuse, New York are probably waiting for me to wander through town so I can be picked up on one outstanding book borrowing warrant or another.

–Malcolm

You want your book to sell, right?

“Whether you design your own book exterior and interior or are working with a professional, here are a few precepts that will guide you towards a better product, and thus more sales.

“Lesson Number One: Think of the Reader’s Experience”

Source: Design Your Book to Sell – Indies Unlimited

Gordon Long brings us a quick list of steps we must take to convert “my manuscript” into “the reader’s book.”

Yes, it’s been mine for a while, my words, my muse, my drafts and revisions, but once it gets on the shelf and/or on Amazon’s website. it’s no longer just “mine.” It’s a story told for the reader, a writing prompt for his or her imagination.

But first, s/he has to pick it up. With the advice in this Indies Unlimited post, you can make sure that happens.

–Malcolm

Predators and Editors Poll

This year’s book favorites poll is live at the Critters Workshop. There are quite a few categories of books (etc), so you might just find some of your favorites there. Note that after you cast your vote for a book published in 2016, you’ll have to respond to an e-mail message through which you verify it’s you. This keeps people from voting multiple times. Voting ends January 14.

crittersworkshopShameless Self Promotion: If you read an enjoyed Eulalie and Washerwoman, you can vote for it here.

I keep hoping that the poll will include a general fiction category since lumping those novels into an “all other books” category seems to be somewhat of a discount. Why not just call it “general fiction”? So, the lack of that category explains why Eulalie and Washerwoman is in the Science Fiction and Fantasy category even though it’s in neither genre.

While you’re voting, check out the web site as a resource for writers.

–Malcolm

Traveling to North Georgia for the snow

Online and TV weather sites worried over a winter storm that swept through Georgia Friday and Saturday. Roads weren’t very good, especially in Atlanta where the problem was a lot of black ice. But here in northwest Georgia, we got snow for several hours but nothing too frightening:

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And a little snow on the car:

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Current temperature at 1:45 p.m. is 27 degrees, so it’s not melting off very fast, though the roads are dry and clear around here due mostly to the day’s traffic.

–Malcolm

Book blogs come and go while the blog directories don’t seem to notice

If you’re a reader, you might have a few book blogs to visit every week for comments about books you’re thinking about reading. If you’re a writer, you hope to find people who like reviewing the books in your genre who will consider your latest novel for review.

As I mentioned briefly under “Musings” on my other blog, I’m not going to submit any book I write to a blog with a goofy name that sounds like it’s written while somebody’s frying eggs or sitting on a riding mower. Yes, those blogs may have a fair number of followers, but a positive review from them can’t be quoted anywhere because goofy names don’t stack up well when the competition is quoting from magazines, newspapers and blogs with professional names.

blogclipartAll this comes to mind again because I’ve been looking for bloggers that might want to review my work. Unfortunately, some of my favorite blogs from a few years ago have closed down while others have made it harder for writers to get a foot in the door.

So, the next places I turn to are blogging directories, some are run by professional authors, editors and reviewers, and others run by people who read a lot and who kept a record of their links.

What surprises me is that a fair number of people with websites listing bloggers, don’t keep their directories current. Sure, since the directory is free and might have a hundred listings, it’s a lot of trouble without compensation to go out there every month and see if the links work. That’s too bad because bad links are not only a waste of time, but they show the kind of laziness on the directory owner’s part that suggests they’re not actively looking for new links either to keep the place up to date.

I wish I’d kept a record of the number of blog links that ended up on screens like this yesterday and today while I was making the rounds:

  • The blog’s last post was several years ago.
  • The blog is officially closed because the blogger got too busy but has been left online so people could get to the archives.
  • A 404 error message.
  • A message that says “this domain is for sale.”
  • A change in policy indicating that the blog now has nothing to do with the blurb in the directory that supposedly describes what it offers.
  • Porn and other clickbait junk.

Naturally, my saying all this isn’t going to fix anything. But if you’re a reader or a writer who’s looking for new blogs, I’m not going to say “I feel your pain” because why would I want to do that? But I do understand your discouragement when you spend several hours looking and are lucky to come up with only one or two possibilities.

–Malcolm

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