The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

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Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award

The Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award is open for entries. The Kindle Storyteller Award is a new literary prize recognising newly published work in the English language across any genre and includes a £20,000 prize.

via Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award – Indies Unlimited

This looks like a great opportunity if you have a potential Kindle Direct Publishing manuscript ready or almost ready. The big plus, in addition to the award, is the publicity. That can be a nice boost for your writing career.

Thanks to Indies Unlimited for posting this.


Is language a prostitute queen?

“Nothing is so easy as to deceive one’s self when one does not lack wit and is familiar with all the niceties of language. Language is a prostitute queen who descends and rises to all roles. Disguises herself, arrays herself in fine apparel, hides her head and effaces herself; an advocate who has an answer for everything, who has always foreseen everything, and who assumes a thousand forms in order to be right. The most honorable of men is he who thinks best and acts best, but the most powerful is he who is best able to talk and write” – George Sand, in “Indiana”

A character in a TV show who was talking about abuse said that scars and bruises heal, but abusive words said to another person last forever. As soon as she said it, I thought of this passage in George Sand’s 1832 novel Indiana. It was written when sentiments in France were in a state of flux between being ruled by a hereditary monarch or a constitutional monarch. The debate was endless, but veiled somewhat behind the eloquence of well-practiced aristocratic conversations that were an art form well-outside the scope of today’s conversations at dinner and formal affairs.

Yet, as a writer, I am disturbed by the passage. Many people say that actions speak louder than words. There is truth in that, I think. But many people also believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Over time, perhaps, though not on a battlefield.

Today, as we hear a lot of words from both sides of the political spectrum, we’re hearing a lot about biased news and fake news, so it becomes harder and harder to tell what the truth of any matter is. If language is, or can be used as a prostitute queen, people are being quite often swayed these days by more words than actions. Yet, I take issue with the suggestion that those of us who write are somehow in league with Voldemort–or the devil of your choice–and cannot be trusted.

I don’t think words are forever as the TV actress said on the show, but in the context of the scene, that idea made sense. Most words are, I think, forgotten. Or, their importance dims with time as people hear fresh words that make more sense, that seem more true to them, that they can prove by doing a little soul searching or fact checking.

Yet, I think that with times as they are now, a lot of people would agree with George Sand’s author’s comment in her novel. Personally, I don’t think the words–or language itself–are at fault. The people who use words badly, who have thinly veiled agendas, who seldom bother with the truth, who replace facts with opinions and/or slick writing–they are the ones making us distrust words while giving those words more power over us than they actually have.



Hope in a Texas prison

“This [creative writing] class has helped me in so many ways. I’ve found healing, a way to live with my situation, and hope. The class has allowed me to be heard, to leave behind proof of my existence, and has given me a way to preserve my name. I no longer feel like I’m just a number—I now have a voice.” – Kevin Murphy in Heartbreaking True Stories from Inside Texas Prisons

Out of right, out of mind. That’s probably our view of prisoners except when they break out or are released and immediately commit a new crime. We don’t hear about the others because they don’t show up on the evening news.

The bastards deserve to be in there. We probably think that, too, and the notion that prisoners are scum is reinforced for us on most cop shows where a leading character (cop or lawyer) goes to a prison to talk to a con who is usually portrayed as somebody who doesn’t deserve to be in the world.

There’s a world inside those bars, though. It made my day to read about Deb Olin Unferth’s (Wait Till You See Me Dance) writing workshops presented at a maximum security prison in Texas. And then, my day became a bit sad when I read what three prisoners had to say in the article cited above.

As an author, I have no special qualifications or resume material to make judgements about why the U.S., with 5% of the world’s population, has 25% (2.4 million) of the world’s prison population, how much it costs to house all these people, and why the conditions in these prisons–as bad as they seem to be–lure to many prisoners back with the commission of new crimes after serving their time and being released.

Perhaps if they had chance to learn something that really helps them, as opposed to making license plates, fewer of them would end up going back. Whatever we’re doing isn’t working. Deb Olin Unferth’s workshops sounds like a step in the right direction.


Book Marketing tips for trad published authors

“Over the course of my ongoing tour, a lot of people have asked me what it’s like working with a major publisher and how much book marketing is expected of a traditionally published author. The answer is, it’s great, but it’s also a lot of work. In fact, based on my conversations with self-published authors, I can tell you that the book marketing effort required by a traditionally published author is about 99% the same as what’s expected of a self-published writer.”

Source: Book Marketing tips for trad published authors via Mark Noce

Mark Noce’s comments may surprise some self-published and small-press-published authors who assume larger publishers do more of the promotion work. As you’ll see, that’s not possible, due to the volume of new books coming out every month.

But Mark offers some nice tips here, well worth reading.


Changes at Books-a-Million Publishing

It’s a common dream among first-time authors: you walk into your favorite local bookstore and there’s Your Book, sitting on the shelf for everyone to see – and buy. Alas, it’s unlikely to happen if you’re an indie author. If it happens at all, it will require a lot of hard work and persuasive energy…

via BAM! Publish: A Vanity Press? — Indies Unlimited

The changes look kind of pricey. Why would anyone go this route when there are more economical ways to get into print?

Perhaps there’s an “up side” to the program. Look closely before signing anything to make sure there’s anything here you can use.



Strange Fruit: What the Sunshine State Didn’t Advertise

Click on graphic for more information

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.



New Vietnam War navy novel coming soon

Sometimes, books have to evolve.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that while I served in the navy for a little over two years, I ultimately received a honorable discharge as a conscientious objector (CO). The legal definition of just who could file as a conscientious objector then was somewhat fluid and likely to be interpreted by local draft boards in different ways.

Early on, one could not viably file as a CO unless s/he was a member of a church with formalized anti-war beliefs–such as the Quakers. The alternatives to serving in the military were either jail (for committing a felony and not registering for the draft or for failure to appear when drafted) or going to the (then) safe countries of Canada or Sweden.

Wrestling with these questions impacted me, and I always thought there should be a fictional way of handling them.

cover photo

cover photo

The Navy/CO experience originally inspired a section of a rather lengthy magical realism novel that I self published some years ago. Subsequently, a small publisher contracted with me to break that book into a trilogy, the middle book of which was focused on life aboard an aircraft carrier. The publisher did not like magical realism, so neither of us ended up being happy with the resulting three books. The books didn’t sell and the whole thing went out of print.

Publishing books in a series is a blessing and a curse. In many ways–especially in romance novels and thrillers–a series is a good way to go. But otherwise, it can be a problem because the readers who might be interested in, say, the second book in a series won’t buy it because they won’t have read the first book. The more you link the books together, the more likely people who don’t read all of them won’t understand any of them.

I still believe in the story, though. So here’s how the ultimate book has evolved. I’ve extracted the navy story from the trilogy, stolen some related material from the other two books, and added material that was originally left out because the whole thing was getting too long, and am now ready to bring out a new edition of the navy story under a new title.

I’m going to release the book on Kindle to see if the story garners any interest. If it does, then maybe a paperback or an audio book version will make sense. Right now, I’m focused on the final editing and formatting of the Kindle edition.

Today, men still have to register with the selective service commission and military service is voluntary. To some extent, I want to remind people it wasn’t always that way. Today, if you don’t believe in the current war, you don’t have to enlist. More than that, Vietnam was in many ways a crisis for the American people because it showed the United States was fallible. It couldn’t send troops wherever it wanted and be assured of a positive result. So I think there’s still a viable book here when we look back on that time in our history.

I’m happy to say that my personal demons about that war have finally been put to rest and that the book that comes out of them is almost ready to release. What will come of it? I don’t have a clue. But I needed to write it.





92% of college students prefer print books to e-books, study finds

“If you imagine millennials are just young people entranced by their cellphones or tablet computers, you might want to think again. According to a new study , 92% of college students would rather do their reading the old-fashioned way, with pages and not pixels.”

Source: 92% of college students prefer print books to e-books, study finds – LA Times

In another article, the author cited statistics showed that slightly less than 40% of Americans read only print books. Perhaps the future will continue to bring us multiple reading/listening options.


Magic Realism: review of Conjure Woman’s Cat

Source: Magic Realism: Conjure Woman’s Cat

KIndle cover 200x300The story is set in the Florida panhandle in the 1950’s in a society dominated by racism, and tackles the serious issues of white violence, rape, day-to-day prejudice and mother/daughter relationships. This is a book that packs a lot into its 166 pages. Despite this bleak subject matter the book is beautifully written, allowing this Brit a vision of a place which the author knows well and clearly loves. The contrast of the natural beauty highlights the ugliness of human behaviour.

It’s always nice to sign onto a blog and see your book cover there with a nice review. Many thanks to Zoe Brooks and her magical realism weblog.


Good fiction should be true to itself

“I think you just have to try your hardest to tell the truth. When you’re writing fiction, you’re making a lot up, but there’s a difference between making something up that’s untruthful and something that’s truthful. You don’t want to ever feel as if you’re acting falsely. It’s this emotional resonance and you can lie in fiction. Part of the trust that the reader provides is putting their attention in your hands, and you have to be able to tell them that you’re never going to lie to them. You’re going to tell them a story, but it’s not going to be untruthful. It’s much more nebulous than straightforward fact, it’s more mysterious and harder to define. You know it when you hear it, and you also know when it’s missing.”

– Lauren Groff, in an interview on The Rumpus.

People often ask me why I do research. After all, it’s fiction. I’m making it all up.

Suppose I don’t check the history books and I tell you on page one of a novel that the War of 1812 started in 1814. Will you trust the rest of the book?

truthclipartWhen we listen to the news on TV, we’re often aware when the anchor person is slanting the story. The facts might be right, but they’re not all there. Objectivity is hard for humans to achieve. But reporters are expected to try. Reasonably informed viewers aren’t easily deceived by stories that are spun toward one agenda or another.

When fiction is written about other times or places or cultures, an author’s false spin is often more difficult to detect. Needless to say, many novels focus on the storms and stresses of history or upon the injustices in today’s world. Chances are, most authors are trying to truly tell you a good story that also brings to your attention a crime or a policy or a way of thinking that hasn’t been on your radar.

Yes, the author will probably have a point of view and that will flow through the novel. Yet, they still need to maintain the ethics of a good reporter. That is to say, they need to give the story room enough to tell itself without flavoring it with their own judgements about the characters as the plot unfolds. There’s no need to lie about bad men. When we lie about them to make them appear even worse than they were, then we’ve lost our way.

Even in fiction, readers deserve the unvarnished facts about the characters and what they do–even if those characters are wholly imaginary. Authors usually find that their stories have inherent truths to them; those truths are organic and arise out of the kinds of characters and events the author has created. Things that don’t fit usually stand out when the author is revising the manuscript and when the editor is helping in the creation of the final version.

Good stories impact the readers’ emotions. Not to overstate this, but authors are morally obligated, I think, not to stir those emotions with lies. We’re by no means perfect. We can get caught up in the heat of the moment while writing critical scenes. That’s why our mentors advise us to let the first draft of a story sit for a while. That gives us time to cool off and bring our objectivity and quest for fairness back to our desks when revising the material.

I can forgive a reporter for slipping because s/he is working on a very short deadline. Authors usually have time to reflect on what they’ve said before sending a manuscript to a publisher. Groff says that the time a reader takes in reading a novel, is a gift to the author. I agree and work like hell to deserve it.


SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Sarabande,” a contemporary fantasy coming out on November 1 in a new second edition from Thomas-Jacob Publishing. The Kindle version is currently available for pre-order.



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