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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.




Great new review of ‘Emily’s Stories’ audio book

“Kelley Hazen performs the narration in a solid voice that is exhilaratingly fresh and young and old sounding as appropriate.  Her accent is accurate and captures the essence of each character perfectly.  I found her voice mesmerizing and comforting at the same time.” – Audio Book Reviewer

After a book has been out for several years, nothing makes an author’s or a narrator’s day any better than finding a great new review. (Click on the link to see the rest of the review.) Sure, I’m probably biased, but Kelley Hazen did a stunning job with this book of three stories which are geared toward family reading/listening.

Perhaps your family will discover Emily’s Stories, too.



Remembering ‘Into Thin Air’

If you follow Mt. Everest summit attempts–or followed then in the late 1990s–you already know that Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is not without controversy. Since it relates the events of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster (when Krakauer did reach the summit) in which eight climbers died and the high altitude perceptions of people from multiple climbing teams varied, the controversy isn’t unexpected. Others on the scene had quite different accounts and some published their own books.

Click on this graphic to learn more about the book and the controversy

Nonetheless, I see Into Thin Air as honest attempt by one of those on the scene to tell the stories of those involved as accurately as possible. Most who reach the “death zone” (above 25,000 feet) say that brains don’t function well even on bottled oxygen and that almost every moment as climbers near the summit is an exhausted and agonizing one.

Even a good journalist like Krakauer couldn’t be everywhere at once and was bound to hear widely contrasting accounts from those he interviewed (leaders, guides, and other climbers) about the disaster.

Krakauer notes in the book that when compared to the Europeans, Americans in general have a low amount of interest in mountain climbing, especially when it comes to 8,000-meter peaks far away. I’m in the minority. When Hillary reached the summit of Everest in 1953, that was almost more exciting to me (as a third grader) than the moon landing was when I was in college. My father had numerous books about Everest and I read all of them.

I missed out on an early 1970s opportunity to go on a trekking expedition to the Everest Base Camp (17,000 feet) that had few of the risks associated with summit attempts. So, I followed Everest, hoping one day to be there, even though I was appalled at the fact that some expeditions were leading gaggles of climbing neophytes up to the higher level camps for–by the time Krakauer wrote his book–$65,000 each plus travel and equipment expenses–and leaving tons of garbage behind.

I read Krakauer’s book when it came out because I knew about the rogue storm and the deaths from newspaper and magazine reports. It was a sobering book then. It’s a sobering book now as I re-read it for the first time in the twenty years since it was published. While Krakauer stipulates that climbing such mountains as K2 and Everest is really an irrational act, he disputes the notion that those who climb the world’s highest mountains are reckless risk takers. Climbing is grueling hard work, more conservative as it plays out says Krakauer than rising a motorcycle down the road at 120 miles an hour.

At my age, I no longer think about going even as far as Everest’s base camp. But if you’re thinking about it, this book is a must. If you become infected by the idea of Everest, be ready to climb many lower peaks first and spend a lot of time in a gym because going into air that’s 1/3 as dense as that at sea level in hurricane force winds bringing sub-zero temps to fields of ice and sheer rock is something that requires a plan in the middle of your insanity.


One good thing about being a writer is having one’s characters do what he didn’t or couldn’t do. In my novel “At Sea,” my protagonist talks about climbing K2, the world’s second highest peak and one that is probably more difficult than Everest. I interviewed a variety of people who’d been to the summit of K2. One person said that when he got there, the peak was covered by a cloud and he couldn’t see a thing. Kind of a letdown, in a way, but I believe Krakauer when he says that during the five minutes he stood on Everest’s summit and looked at the beauty around him, he was too tired and too sick to care. I felt that way at the summits of Colorado’s highest mountains and kind of knew the feeling.

New E-book for lovers of folklore and humor

My new short story “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” has been released on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes by Thomas-Jacob Publishing.


Every spring, fast food junkie Peter Martin packs his wife, Mary, and son, John, into his SUV and crisscrosses the back country of the Florida Panhandle searching for Diddy-Wah-Diddy, a legendary town offering travelers all the free food they can eat. Mary thinks they’ll never find it. John draws maps to show where they’ve been in years past. Peter has more hunches than fleas on a hound dog about the town’s location. More often than not, they get lost.

This year, they find Diddy-Wah-Diddy. It’s better than they expected. They begin to eat more than they should. Then Peter has a horrifying accident and disappears. While the powers that be treat Peter’s fall from grace as business as usual, Mary and John wait for him, and while they wait they keep eating all they can eat.

Author’s Note

Diddy-Wah-Diddy is, perhaps, the best known of Florida’s mythical places. The original story about a hidden-away town with unlimited food was among the folk tales collected by Zora Neale Hurston while working with the Federal Writers Project in 1938. Hurston wrote that Diddy-Wah-Diddy was “reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagonload of fodder can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.”

Bo Diddley further popularized the legendary town in his song “Diddy Wah Diddy” recorded for Checker Records in 1955. You can find an unadorned re-telling of the original folktale in Kristin G. Congdon’s Uncle Monday and other Florida Tales. “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” is a re-imagining of the town in modern times.


Free audiobook: ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

I have a few ACX codes for those of you who would like to listen to the audiobook edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat. This edition won a prestigious Red Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine. That means my narrator Wanda J. Dixon did a wonderful job!

To get your ACX code, which allows you to order the book from Audible for free, e-mail me at Put “Conjure Woman’s Cat” in the header. Just say something like, please send me a code, and tell me if you’re going to use Audible US or Audible UK.

I’ll hit REPLY and send you the code. Then, come back here and click on the graphic to go to the book’s listing on Audible (US).

Or, if you live in the UK, click here for the book’s listing.

You’ll either see a field where you can enter the code or a link that says “Do you have a promotion code?’

I don’t have 100000000000000 codes, but the few I do have are first come, first served.

Book’s Description

Lena, 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. When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.” But Eulalie has secrets of her own, and it’s hard not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.

AudioFile Magazine Review Excerpt

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. 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. S.G.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile

I hope you enjoy the book.


What about Amazon’s Third-Party Sellers?

via Help! Someone else is selling my book! – Indies Unlimited

While taking a short break from obsessively Googling your name and checking your KDP dashboard, you wander over to search for your book on Amazon. Imagine your surprise when – gasp – you see two listings. Or three listings. Or even more! Someone named IHeartBooks is selling your paperback on Amazon! Not only that, but – horror of horrors – they’re charging more than you are. Or maybe less than you are. Or maybe you’re one of those authors who’s stumbled across a copy of your paperback selling on Amazon for $6,789 or some such outrageous price.

No, this is not piracy. It’s business. Stores and others buy your book at wholesale and sell it at retail. Others buy your book, read it, and then sell the copy to somebody else. It’s legit. Publisher Melinda Clayton explains why.

I buy too many books. So, I’m happy that Amazon allows me to resell the copy after I’ve read it. I usually don’t make very much because some sellers try to make their profit on volume by keeping the extra (if any) charged for shipping while selling the copy for a penny. Occasionally, I make a few dollars.

You can, too. And so can a lot of other people.


Books working their way toward the trash bin

“Books are sacred objects. Books are garbage. Between, the books with badly bent covers on the parsons tables of Midas Muffler and orthopedists’ waiting rooms. Books bought by the yard to complement the colors in the redecorated den. The tumbled remainders of remainders on the dollar store shelf, Geoff Dyer next to Christian fiction. The gorgeously designed new releases presented on the tabletops of independent bookstores as if they were hand-painted confections in a vitrine at Teuscher. Then there is the final stop, where some books are no longer figurative garbage. They are actual trash.”

– Melissa Holbrook Pierson in “Books are Garbage” in The Millions

People die, so perhaps we should not expect books to live forever.

But they can, if we let them. Go to a Friends of the Library sale, a used book shop, or–as Pierson suggests–the dump, and you can extend the life of books. Perhaps forever.

Of course, some books don’t have a chance at reincarnation because they are pulped, recycled into paper ultimately re-used for something else. This happens because books in bookstores are all subject to return if they don’t sell. However, many have been bent, smudged, or soiled by those looking for favorite holy writ. Unfortunately, books are heavy so it’s cheaper to grind them up than mail them back to the publisher.

When I had a paper route, I found all kinds of neat stuff thrown out in front of people’s houses for the trash truck. A lot of appliances found their way there that were easy to repair. Old chairs that I could sit in. More knickknacks to clutter my shelves. And, if I rode by before the dew or rain ruined them, books! I took many of them home. As far as I know, those I might still have are not going to sell at auction for $1000000000000.

When I was a kid, I often saved common first glass stamps off of incoming letters. My grandfather, who made thousands of dollars in his lifetime with his stamp and coin collections, told me saving those was a waste of time because there were simply too many of them. Unfortunately, the same thing has happened to books. Most books on eBay and reseller books on Amazon sell for a few pennies because that’s what people are willing to pay. The sellers make their money off the Amazon’s postage allowance.

I’ve found a lot of great reading material on eBay and the Amazon reseller pages. However, I refuse to buy indie authors’ books this way because they deserve the royalties. So do the famous authors, but they already got their royalties from their books’ initial sales while most indie authors have few initial sales (relatively speaking).

My small-town library held a used book sale once a year. Most of the books there were donated. Some were those the library no longer had room to shelve. $0.50 for hardbacks; $0.25 for paperbacks. I cringe at such prices, but realistically I know that if the library asked for more, the books would still be on those tables at the end of the sale.

As an author, the books at library sales, eBay, Amazon resellers, bookstore sales tables (a step away from being pulped) are a worse sight than roadkill. So far, science and religion don’t know how to bring roadkill back to life in this world. But books, we can still save just for the pleasure of reading something knew or cherishing an older edition of a classic.


Michael Shaara and ‘The Killer Angels’

Dedicated to Michael Shaara, Author, who so poignantly reminded us of the mortal sacrifice made by the soldiers who valiantly fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1st – 3rd, 1863 Presented to The Pickett Society by Stephen Lang, Board Member, Thespian & Playwright


When Lesa and I visited Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond earlier this week where 18,000 Confederate soldiers are buried, we sound this bench dedicated to author Michael Shaara next to the grave of General Pickett. Pickett survived Gettysburg and was among those who facilitated moving the remains of the dead to Richmond. (He died in 1875.) Information about the bench’s dedication can be found on the Pickett Society website here.

Very eerie hill with so many gravestones from one battle.

On a hill where so many of the dead from Gettysburg (many unknown) finally rest in peace, this is a fitting place to honor Shaara. His Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Killer Angels,” about the battle of Gettysburg, is considered one of the best civil war novels.

“A gripping novel about the four days of the battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels is alive with noble figures and moves through its fated courses in a prose both simple and epic. Happily, a leading character is Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, a young professor of rhetoric from Maine, who speaks to his men with a power that Mark Antony might envy. When the largest gatherings of both the Union and Confederate armies meet by chance at Gettysburg, a battle follows that neither army wants at that time and place. But General Robert E. Lee, the proud rebel, is utterly set on dealing a death blow to the Union and stakes everything on the battle that forms around Cemetery Hill. After the first day’s fighting, Southerners sing victory songs. But Lee’s cavalry, led by gallivanting J.E.B. Stuart, has left Lee blind: he has no idea of the size or placing of Union forces. In a uselessly stupid gesture, he attacks the untakable hill. A strong, spirited, bloody book, equal to its subject.” – Kirkus Reviews

Shaara was a good friend and by far taught the best college writing class I ever attended. His influence on the work of those of us who met in his living room once a week is substantial.


Why I wrote ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

Because the world around me when I was growing up included this kind of warped nonsense:

Florida Memory Photo

Any questions?


Conjure Woman’s Cat and its sequel Eulalie and Washerwoman are available at multiple online sites as well as at your book store via their Ingram Catalogue.

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