The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the category “books”

If you loved ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman,’ I’ll appreciate your vote

A note from your sponsor: that would be me.

My 2016 novel Eulalie and Washerwoman has been nominated in the fantasy category of the 2017 Reader’s Choice Awards. The awards focus on small press and self-published books.

All you have to do to vote is click on the graphic in this post, use the arrow buttons to go to the fantasy genre (category #8) listing, and then select your favorite book.

While you’re there, you’ll find a lot of other wonderful books in the 16 categories. Fortunately, the site will only allow one vote per book.

I’ll admit that my novel isn’t really a fantasy. But a lot of people think it is, and besides, there wasn’t a better genre available. If you read it and liked it, I’ll appreciate your vote.

–Malcolm

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What are service publishers?

Service publishers are akin to vanity publishers in that they will print or publish whatever you have for a price. They will not pass judgment on it and they don’t care if it sells. The difference here is that you know from the get-go that they are selling services, not dreams.

via Service Publishers — a la Carte for Authors ‹ Indies Unlimited ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

Should you consider a publisher you have to pay? Hard to say, especially as writing gurus start telling self-published authors they need better editing, formatting, cover art and promotion plans, none of which are free.

Melissa Bowerstock tells us that service publishers and vanity publishers aren’t the same because vanity publishers are selling dreams and service publisher are selling services. Before you say, “oh, well that’s just semantics,” consider the fact that service publishers offer a “menu” of services from which you can choose while vanity publishers offer you a package that may or may not include services you don’t want.

It’s worth looking at because self-publishing really isn’t free if you want your book to have a chance of selling well.

–Malcolm

Sometimes, it’s hard to concentrate on writing

Life gets in the way.

One of our three 15-year-old cats died last week of a blood clot that shut down a major artery. There’s no warning with this problem, somewhat common in cats. The house feels emptier now. The two other cats are more clingy than usual, though our intuition tells us they’re more accepting of the natural order of things than my wife and I are.

Meanwhile, my favorite place on the planet, Glacier National Park, Montana, has a dangerous fire on its western side. The Sprague fire has already burnt down a historic chalet (Sperry) that was built by the Great Northern Railway (now BNSF) in 1913. The fire continues to spread behind high winds and dry conditions and is now threatening Lake McDonald Lodge.

Sperry Chalet

I keep checking the news as well as the InciWeb site for updates. At my age, I could do little or nothing if I were there. But still, I feel that I should be there. That’s lunacy, of course, but feelings often come in out of nowhere.

As writers, we face all kinds of distractions. I came home from a week-long vacation in North Carolina where I saw the eclipse with my family, ready to write. The vacation was a better tonic than any doctor could have prescribed. But now these worries have gotten in the way.

Writers are more or less human, I guess.

Meanwhile, I appreciate all of you who downloaded free copies of Mountain Song and The Sun Singer during the Dog Days of August Sale August 28-31. Thank you!

Malcolm

 

John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ Now a Picture Book

Released by John Lennon in 1971, “Imagine” is a timeless—and 46 years later a hauntingly timely—song of peace and tolerance that has been performed by hundreds of musicians across the world. The lyrics to this iconic song will appear in picture-book format for the first time on September 21, the annual International Day of Peace, when Clarion publishes Imagine in partnership with Amnesty International. The book features a foreword by Yoko Ono Lennon and illustrations by Jean Jullien. In boldly colored mixed-media art, the French graphic illustrator follows the journey of a pigeon spreading a message of friendship and hope to birds on land and sea.

via John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ Now a Picture Book

This has the potential of becoming a real treasure or a big disappointment. I’ll be interested to see how Clarion and the artist handle the work, and will be hoping for the best.

Perhaps it will become the “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” of our generation in its new incarnation as a book.

–Malcolm

Trying to re-discover the joy of writing

Contrary to popular belief, most fiction writers don’t start out dreaming of becoming the next John Steinbeck or J. K. Rowling. We start out because writing a story that springs from our imagination is a joyful experience. That’s it. Some of us find agents and are published by HarperCollins. Some of us find small, boutique presses that publish five to ten books a year. And some of us publish directly on Amazon. Most fiction writers don’t make enough money to live on from their novels.

Those who do, whether it’s by luck, talent, and/or a flair for publicity are rare, rather like the number of sandlot baseball players who make it into the major leagues. Most don’t.

We’re happy, many of us, if we can sell several hundred copies of a novel and then move on to the next book. Unfortunately, Amazon has thrown a wrench into the works even though they court indie authors. The best we can figure out is that it has changed the algorithm that controls book rankings to favor large presses and/or higher priced books.

Here’s what that means for the rest of us. Used to be, we could reduce the price of our novels to 99 cents, run a modest ad in a readers’ newsletter, and easily sell 25-50 copies or more. This would cause our books to rise in the rankings enough to be spotted by people who hadn’t seen the ad, so we’d get additional sales during the following days at the full price. With the new algorithm, our books don’t rise much in the rankings, or if they do, they quickly drop back to their pre-sale level, and there are few residual sales. This leads to fewer reader reviews and fewer reviews means even lower rankings and fewer sales.

A writer friend and I talked about why neither of us has made any progress to speak of on or novels in progress. We realized that our fixation on “the Amazon problem” has killed our joy of writing. Yes, we’re both pissed off about our fixations. We think we should be able to keep writing and not worry about sales at all because the act of writing is where the fun is. However, one has to have some sales or s/he runs in the red when you consider the cost of ISBN numbers, copyright registration, cover art work, and an editor to weed out the typos, and office supplies.

All authors have to consider the business side of their art, like it or not. That is part of being a writer. Those of us who write, knew going into this sloppy business that the deck would always be stacked against us in favor of the BIG PUBLISHERS, BIG AGENTS, and BIG AUTHORS. No, we’re not happy about that, but before “the Amazon problem” emerged, we could at least be content with selling a reasonable number of copies, attracting some nice reviews, and having a group of readers who looked forward to our next book.

So it is that my writer friend and I really need to ignore sales. That doesn’t mean giving up our blogs, websites, Facebook announcements of new books, or Twitter accounts. It means remembering why we’re doing this, writing, I mean. We joke about getting a call from Oprah letting us know our latest book is her new book club pick or that Warner Brothers just bought a $10,000 option on our latest novel. We’re not masochists who want to live in poverty for our art.

In spite of a strong reliance on our imaginations for concocting novels and short stories, we are capable of being realistic about our place in the writing universe. We didn’t set out with a John Steinbeck of J. K. Rowling goal. We need to remember that when we start agonizing about Amazon’s new algorithm that helps the rich and famous become more rich and famous. Let it go, I want to say. I never planned to become rich and famous. (Frankly, I don’t think I could cope with it.)

We like to tell stories. We’re happy while we’re telling them and we’re happy if  a few people find them and enjoy the novel or short story. That’s where the joy of the work is found. Sure, I have to give a wink and a nod to book promotion, but if becoming a slave to it is destroying me–and the books I want to write–then to hell with sales figures.

Okay, enough is enough. I’m taking a one-week vacation to the mountains. When I come back, I’m ignoring Amazon, the number of copies I’ve sold, and the number of reader reviews I have. None of that matters. Actually, it does matter, but I’m going to stop focusing on it and do what I want to do: write.

–Malcolm

 

 

Nightbeat: How to live long, if not prosper

Rome, Georgia, August 12, 2017, Star-Gazer News Service–At my age, several things are happening, especially on my birthday. First, my newspaper is trying to force me into retirement because I refuse to write opinionated news like to many of today’s modern “journalists.” Second, people keep saying, “Jock, you look so young.” And finally, folks want to know how to live a long life.

It’s tempting to just toss off my dear old daddy’s prescription and then get the hell away from everyone asking that silly question. He always said, “Drink a pint of moonshine everyday while smoking three packs of Marlboro cigarettes. “ He said this before Marlboro started marketing pot cigarettes in green boxes.

Actually, when my wife isn’t listening, I say the true solution is booze, books and blondes. If she hears me, she ruins the ambiance of the moment by saying, “Didn’t I tell you to lay off those blondes?” She’s a brunette whom I met at work when we both really looked good enough to meet people at work. She also tells me to cut back on “the sauce,” which leads to further trouble when I say a half a bottle of single malt Scotch either makes brunettes look like blondes or makes it not matter.

So, that leaves me with the books. Studies have shown (I’m not making this up) that books lead to a longer life. Of course, you gotta start early. It’s not like asking God for forgiveness on your death bed after a life of sin.

Books won’t save you if you wait until your at death’s door before you pick up, say, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and expect it to work like the fountain of youth. Books save you slowly over the long haul and–except for Finnegans Wake–are less dangerous than blondes for men or women with a brunette spouse.

A psychologist–and we know how “sane” they are–suggested on Facebook that it takes 65 days to create a habit. Let’s say she’s right. If you had read your English teacher’s book report assignments in middle school and high school, you’d be all set by now no matter hold old you are unless you’re in the 5th grade. Booze and blondes don’t take 65 days to become a habit, but in most school systems, they’re not assigned as middle school or high school homework–and if they were, woe be unto the kid whose dear old mama finds either one in his/her room after the lights are out.

One thing to avoid when you reach AARP age is trying to play one-upmanship with other AARP friends about your illnesses. After 65 days of that, you’re en route to an early grave. Plus, young people hate sitting on a front porch while granny says something like, “You think alcoholism is bad, I’ve got hemorrhoids.” If granny had just read a book, that wouldn’t have happened. Too late now, though.

Mark Twain once told a joke about an old lady who went to the doctor with some illness or other. The doc told her to give up smoking, and she said she didn’t smoke. When he suggested giving up chewing tobacco, she said she didn’t partake. He listed a long string of other real of imagined vices to which she said she didn’t do any of that stuff. Twain’s comment to the audience was, “So there it was. She was like a sinking ship with no extra freight to throw overboard.”

I heard this joke when I was a kid and it made a strong impression on me. I picked up as many vices as I could and as I got older, I’ve have plenty of dead weight to jettison in order to stay healthy. True, my wife might force me to throw the blondes overboard along with most of the booze. But, like Paris, I’ll always have my books.

Editorial Column by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter 

Aw, those poor authors of ‘overlooked books’

Yes, I know, some publishers won’t turn your manuscript into a book if they don’t think it’s going to sell 50,000 copies or more. Gosh, 40,000 copies must be a real downer causing middle management shake-ups, angry calls to agents who promised everything, and getting the book tagged as one of the most overlooked books of the year.

While headlines such as this one on Kirkus (The 9 Most Overlooked Summer YA Novels You Should Read) give a publication a cheap and easy feature story to write, they’re an insult to mid-list and small press authors whose books really have been overlooked. Readers, especially on-line readers, probably love these lists because (a) they (the lists) don’t require much of an attention span, and (b) might include a gem that the readers didn’t notice earlier in the year.

  • The first book on Kirkus’ young adult list is Solo, by by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess. It looks good, by the way. However, since it’s displayed on Kirkus’ list with a Kirkus starred review, the book wasn’t overlooked.  The second book on the list, Saints and Misfits, also had a starred review from Kirkus as did every other book on the list. “Overlooked” is a category for books that Kirkus won’t review.
  • Solo’s current rank on Amazon is #1 in teens fiction. I’ll stipulate that its publisher would probably like to see a better overall ranking than 2,949. However, “overlooked” better describes small press books that hardly ever get into the top slots of Amazon’s genre rankings which (due to recent changes) are biased in favor of major publishers and higher priced books.
  • Solo was also reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal, BookPage, and others. Sure, more would be better. But “overlooked” really refers to books none of these outlets consider at all.
  • So as not to unfairly single out Solo, I should mention that in addition to actual reviews, the authors of the books on this list were also interviewed.  For example, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) featured a Q&A with the author of Saints and Misfits (S. K. Ali). I like the ABA’s “Indies First” program that supports independent bookstores. Unfortunately, the ABA doesn’t lend this kind of support to indie authors even when their books are distributed by outlets where the bookstores get their titles. Truly “overlooked” is being off the ABA’s radar altogether.
  • Many less-well-known book review sites claim that they support indie authors and (thankfully) a lot of them make good on this claim. However, these outlets–even when they have a regional books flavor–want readers, too, so they often fill many of their review slots with mainstream bestselling books that certainly don’t need any help. “Overlooked” is being passed over by a small review site by monthly features about books by top-100 authors.

Overlooked? I think not.

As the year goes on, we’ll see more and more lists of BEST BOOKS even though there will be more stuff published by December 31: these lists really do overlook books because everyone and their brother tries to be first out of the gate with proclamations about the best of the best of the best. And, we’ll see more lists of OVERLOOKED books, too. Suffice it to say that if a book is noticed by the organization creating the list, it hasn’t been overlooked even if higher sales for it had been expected.

Malcolm

 

Rereading ‘The Horse Whisperer’ by Nicholas Evans

Did you read The Horse Whisperer when in came out in 1995 or see the movie when it was released three years later?

I liked both the book and the movie although their endings are slightly different. I liked them because I love Montana, horses, and the grit people and other animals find within themselves to triumph over what seem to be insurmountable odds. When I first read the book, it was one of the few I wished I’d written. I still felt that way today when I finished rereading it for the first time in twenty-two years.

When I read the book now, I see the characters as they were in the movie. And, I also see the horse being struck by the tractor trailer as it happened in the move. This always happens to me. Perhaps it’s the Rhett Butler syndrome, that is, being unable to read Gone With the Wind without seeing Clark Gable playing Butler.

I was looking for something new to read several days ago, saw this book on the shelf, pulled it off and started reading it. Once again I was hooked. This time, of course, I knew the story like those people who pick up a book and look at the ending to make sure their favorite characters are still alive and kicking when the story ends.

Knowing the story this time didn’t make any difference because I’d forgotten many of the details. Part of rereading (for me) is having a chance to observe how the author achieved what s/he achieved, things I miss the first time through. What a good learning experience, and one that’s helped me through the rereading of numerous books.

When I know more or less where the story’s going, I can see the technique–how the author built the story through description, narration, interior monologue and dialogue for the climax of the story, how the author keeps me reading, how the author makes the story believable.

If you’re a writer, so you do this?

Malcolm

 

Book Bits: Junot Díaz, Theodora Goss, Harry Potter

Whenever I’m working on a novel–which is most of the time–my desk gets cluttered with notes and stacks of nonfiction books that focus on the location where my story is set. Right now, for example, the two books hogging desk space are Florida’s Wetlands and Florida Wildflowers. As much as I enjoy these reference books, it’s a pleasure finding time to read fiction. What a surprise, then, to pick up a copy of Theodora Goss’ The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and discover I was reading the best fiction I’ve read in years. See my review below (Item 2).

Books an Authors Links

  1. Upcoming Title: Next From the Novelist Junot Díaz? A Picture Book, by Alexandra Alter – “Even by Mr. Díaz’s glacial standards, his latest book, ‘Islandborn,’ is long overdue — about 20 years past deadline. And it’s a mere 48 pages long. ‘Islandborn’ is a picture book — Mr. Díaz’s first work of fiction for young readers. It grew out of a promise that he made to his goddaughters two decades ago, when they asked him to write a book that featured characters like them, Dominican girls living in the Bronx.” New York Times
  2. Review: “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter,” by Theodora Goss – “Imagine “monsters” from science fiction and horror classics written by H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Lewis Stevenson working together with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade to track down the killers in a string of gory London murders.” Malcolm’s Round Table
  3. News: Libraries Clear First Budget Hurdle in Congress, by Andrew Albanese – “The budget battle is kicking up again in Washington, but this time with a note of optimism for libraries and library supporters. Last week, a House Appropriations subcommittee voted to recommend level funding for libraries in FY2018, which would mean roughly $231 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), $183 million for the Library Services and Technology Act, and $27 million for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program.” Publishers Weekly
  4. News: Bloomsbury goes full Hermione, set to release two Harry Potter ‘History of Magic’ titles in the fall, by Proma Khosla – “Bloomsbury has yet to share an official press release, cover art, or exact dates for the titles, but they will release in October alongside the exhibition opening. It’s unclear if or how J.K. Rowling is involved since the texts have historical context, but they will undoubtedly tempt the obsessive Potter fan.” Mashable
  5. Interview: JOSHILYN JACKSON: “Lives are this way. They have many pieces, and all the pieces touch,” with Andrew Catá – “Well, sure. I am such a coward. I never want to go down into the places that hurt, or might make me look bad, or where I confront my ugliest self. But my characters always seem to want to, and I have learned that if I fight them, I end up with 30,000 words of drivel I have to throw away.” Book Page
  6. Essay: Rebecca Solnit on a Childhood of Reading and Wandering, by Rebecca Solnit – “There are ecological reasons to question how books are made out of trees but metaphysical reasons to rejoice in the linkage between forests and libraries, here in this public library, in the town I grew up in, with the fiber from tens of thousands of trees rolled out into paper, printed and then bound into books, stacked up in rows on the shelves that fill this place and make narrow corridors for readers to travel through, a labyrinth of words that is also an invitation to wander inside the texts. The same kind of shade and shelter that can be found in an aisle of books and an avenue of trees, and in the longevity of both, and the mere fact that both, if not butchered or burned, may outlive us.” Literary Hub
  7. Feature: What makes us curious? New book asks ‘Why?,’ by Matt McCarthy – “I have a friend who is immune to clickbait. She can stare down the link to a provocative article, ponder its potential significance, stifle her own curiosity, and move on with her day. How does she do this, I have often wondered, and why am I such a sucker?” USA Today
  8. Quotation: That’s one of the things setting us apart from the big box bookstores.  They have a lot more things, but we have some highly curated, important things. I hate to sound cheesy, but it also creates buy-in for the staff. This is their section. They’re proud of it. They keep it tidy. They write shelf-talkers so people know what books they’re excited about.” – Aja Martin, Indigo Bridge Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, from Shelf Awareness

“Book Bits” is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and folklore novels and short stories.

 

Review: ‘Unfinished’ by Pat Bertram

Author Pat Bertram, who previously explored her own encounter with the loss of a loved one in Grief: The Great Yearning (2016), has brought her wisdom into the world of fiction in Unfinished (Stairway Press, June 27, 2017). The story will capture your heart and soul, while shining a spotlight on the fact that most people want those who grieve to get over it quickly because they make us uncomfortable.

Like many spouses, Amanda Ray defined herself as one half of a married team, leaving her without a sense of self when her husband David dies at 59 after a long illness. Her husband was a minister. Amanda’s role as the traditional minister’s wife  (hostess, assistant, secretary, and help meet) didn’t lend itself to separate goals or careers.  While she doesn’t know if she would cope with her loss differently if she’d had her own career to fall back on after her husband died, Amanda does know that the same friends whose visits grew more and more sparse during David’s illness have little or nothing comforting to say during or after the memorial service.

“I’m sorry for your loss” and “It’s time to get on with your life” are among the most popular sentiments. Yet, the grief is like a tide that’s always high and always coming in. Her daughter, already grown and on her own, exhibits an overt lack lack of empathy or sympathy when Amanda cries at everything, can’t sleep, can’t eat, and can hardly hope. Amanda looks for David, expects him to be in his study, wonders why he did this to her and why he was so distant once he learned that his illness was a terminal and painful cancer.

One small hope is a prospective relationship with a man she met at an online forum for cancer caregivers before David died. Sam’s wife also has cancer and isn’t expected to survive it. Amanda and Sam are drawn to each other in part because Sam doesn’t react to her tears and doubts with cliched platitudes. Some of their online chats become steamy. At times, she wonders whether he’s sincere or a predator because while he claims to love her–though they’ve never met in person–Amanda sees that he has less time for her than everyone else in his life. Is there a future here or not?

David, kept secrets from her. They are hidden in a computer file he didn’t want her to read until after he was gone. Now she can’t find the password. She did find the gun in the pocket of his robe and wonders if he bought it to end his life when the pain became more than he could bear. But then she discovers the gun has a longer history. At times, Amanda thinks she’s grieving for a man she didn’t wholly know, and that’s one of the things that makes her feel like everything is unfinished.

Bertram knows grief’s uneven terrain and has created a believable, three-dimensional protagonist who must not only deal with the uproar inside her head and body, but the secrets, the online comings and goings of Sam and the fact that she must face and box up all the mementos of her life with David and quickly move out of the church’s parsonage. Sam, while slightly less believable due to his gushing online endearments, plays a realistic role as a sounding board and–after most of the tears have fallen–a prospective future. The secrets unravel in a cruel progression that keep Amanda–as well as the book’s readers–off balance as though there’s continually another shoe waiting to drop.

Amanda’s story is a poignant story that delivers a heavy punch in a relatively short book. The lessons to be learned will last long after the last page has been turned.

Malcolm

 

 

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