The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Briefly Noted: ‘Florida’s Wetlands’

What does an author do when s/he can’t visit the locations used in a novel? One could hire a team of researchers or use Google Earth to look at the chosen place. Using a guidebook such as Florida’s Wetlands is an easier way. The guidebook won’t tell you everything, but it may tell you enough to accurately sketch in the world where your characters live.

Publisher’s Description

“Taken from the earlier book Priceless Florida (and modified for a stand-alone book), this volume discusses Florida’s Wetlands, including interior wetlands, seepage wetlands, marshes, flowing-water swamps, beaches and marine marshes, and mangrove swamps. Introduces readers to the trees and plants, insects, mammals, reptiles, and other species that live in Florida’s unique wetlands ecosystem, including the Virginia iris, American white waterlily, cypress, treefrogs, warblers, and the Florida black bear.”

This wonderful guide is enhanced through its use of short descriptions, easy-to-navigate sections, photographs, and lists of the flora and fauna in Florida’s variety of swamps and marshes. These lists make it easy for the writer to find additional information on the Internet about a particular tree, fish, flower or bird. Once you know these names and the habitats they call home, it’s easy to do follow-up research online or in other books for more details. In Florida, for example, you can use the information gleaned from this book to explore the online Florida Natural Areas Inventory or the detailed information you can find from a specialized guidebook such as Florida Wildflowers: a Comprehensive Guide by Walter Kingsley Taylor.

Such books, and the sites they’ll lead you to, are windows into a world that’s out of reach due to time constraints, health, jobs, and family responsibilities. And then, too, you’re writing a novel and not a habitat handbook, so you don’t need lengthy and/or definitive descriptions of your locations.

Fortunately, writers can find such popular guidebooks for most states and countries.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” set partially in the wetlands of the Florida Panhandle.


Contests: hard to win but worth the effort


Shortly before my debut YA novel was published in 2016, I spoke to a local writer’s group about my path to publication. Year by year, I recounted the numerous ups and downs of my lengthy journey. After describing a series of setbacks and close calls with agents and editors, I finally recognized that every face in the audience looked absolutely horrified! From then on, I’ve given a swift summary instead: over ten years, three manuscripts, two agents, far too many rejections, just enough praise, and numerous contest finals and wins that validated my work. Indeed, I ultimately found my agent and publisher through contests.

via The Power of Contests: Create Your Own Luck |

Some writers say contests are scams because they think the organizations managing them are getting rich off the entry fees. I don’t agree, and was happy to see this “Writer’s Digest” post by Kristin Bartley Lenz about their value.

She not only shows us how contests helped her, but adds three tips to help other writers navigate the world of competitions and increase the odds of getting a foot in the door with a win.


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.


If you know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be going there

If you’re writing a piece of fiction, I’d urge you not to try to show anything—instead, try to discover something. There’s no way to write anything powerful unless your unconscious takes charge. – Ethan Canin in The Best Writing Advice of 2016

When I was in  school, authors and writing teachers preached the dogma that the first thing a writer had to do before writing a story was figure out the ending and then write in that direction. This advice was supported by psychologists and coaches who said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”

My response to the psychologists and coaches is that I’m always exactly where I need to be. There is no there to head toward. And to those authors and writing teachers, I prefer to discover the ending rather than sabotaging the story by engraving the results of the experiment in stone before I begin.

Let’s stipulate that a lot of great authors knew where they were going, got there, and delivered entertaining and meaningful fiction in the progress. Perhaps their unconscious minds tipped them off and they were left to figure out how such an ending could possibly occur. Or, perhaps they succeeded in spite of their methods.

More and more authors these days are looking at their writing as a grand experiment, one without advance parameters (including various “rules”) that is in every way an act of faith and a means of discovery like walking into the forest primeval without a compass or a map or a box of matches. Why would one do such things?

To see what will happen. En route to that, the author discovers a lot about this evolving theme and characters because s/he’s given them free will. They do what they do and we write that down. If they’re puppets, then they’re simply computers following a code that’s all lock-step toward the only solution(s) the programmer or the writer will allow.

Joseph Campbell maintained that if you’re following a trail, it’s somebody else’s trail. There’s no spontaneity in that. few surprises, and the end result is that you end up where somebody else has already been. As writers, we don’t want to do that.

We need to surprise ourselves–and our readers as well.




Does one need to feel numb before writing a sad scene?

Probably not, but it helps.

It’s rather like sadistic directors during the years of the Hollywood studio system telling child actors and actresses their puppy died to get them to cry for a scene in which they needed to cry.

Goodness knows, today’s headlines are enough to make one feel numb, lonely and a bit hopeless about the state of things.

I have a sad scene staring me in the face, one in which I want the hopelessness of the situation to be thicker than fog. I’ve been avoiding writing it. I knew what it needed, but I wasn’t numb enough to create that.

So, to solve the problem, I raced through two, high-adrenaline, page-turner spy books. You know the type: ISIS vs. the U.S., Russia vs. the U.S., the kind of books where the authors explain weapons and commando methods in detail, the kind where both the good guys and the bad guys kill a lot of people like they’re just playing a video game.

The books are a rush, but when I’m done reading, I feel numb, wondering whether such tactics are what we need to keep a democracy safe. Human life in these books is very expendable. Now I’m depressed enough to write the scene.

It’s almost like somebody told me my puppy got run over.


Darkness on the Hero’s Journey

In the “Hero’s Journey,” Joseph Campbell provides a roadmap of the stages we go through to carry accomplish missions not just for ourselves but for the greater good: Separation, Initiation, and Return, all necessary stops on the healing path.

via Honoring The Darkness On The Healer’s Journey – Dreamcatcher Reality

The hero’s journey is not only a wonderful road map for understanding epic myths and creating larger-than-life fiction, but a path for ourselves whether we’re seekers on the path or spiritual healers.

We have to experience the darkness as a seed experiences the the earth during the gathering of forces time of winter.

Very nice article by Lisa Shaw.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande.”

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.


Audiobooks for your summer vacation

Let’s face it, no matter how much you like traveling, there will be periods of inactivity when an easy-to-listen-to audiobook might keep you from going nuts (or worse). Expediently, here are for of mine for you consideration:

Eulalie and Washerwoman

AudioFile Magazine: Narrator Tracie Christian’s spirited style is ideal to portray the fantasy world of conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins and her shamanistic cat, Lena, who live in Florida in the 1950s. Christian captures Eulalie’s shock when she learns that Jewish merchant Lane Walker, who’s always traded fairly with the local African-Americans, is being forced to give up his store to the Liberty Improvement Club, which forbids serving blacks. Lively descriptions of Eulalie reading possum bones and casting spells; tender scenes with her old beau, Willie Tate; and feline Lena’s communication with Eulalie via secret thought speech add to the local atmosphere. Listeners will be thrilled when Eulalie transports herself into an alligator to save Walker. S.G.B. © AudioFile 2017

Conjure Woman’s Cat

AudioFile Magazine Red Earphones Award Winner: 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 2016

Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire

AudioFile Magazine: Narrator R. Scott Adams’s rapid-fire delivery mirrors the speech of fast-talking old-style newshound Jock Stewart. Listeners need all their skills of concentration, or they’ll miss the story’s wit and even the occasional clue. Sea of Fire is a missing racehorse, but the mystery of his whereabouts sometimes seems merely incidental. The story is high on humor but light on plot–a vehicle for sex, cigarettes, steak, and zinfandel. Stewart, a print journalist, is a likable dinosaur in a changing world. Adams’s timing is perfect, but a second listen is recommended to catch what is missed first time around. C.A.T. © AudioFile 2015

Emily’s Stories

Reader Review: I like it when kids are smarter than adults in stories like this. It gives me hope. The author ‘s writing had a ‘Peter Pan’ feel to it – not that it reads like ‘Peter Pan’ but it’s a kid being powerful and doing something positive. And there is also a magical ‘The Secret Garden’ kind of feel in here.The kid is powerful because she can see & hear the beauty and the magic in Nature. This audiobook has the coldest, scariest ghost voice in the world and also the wonderful open, free and uninhibited voice of ‘Emily’. AND the voices of birds and much more. The widest range of voices I’ve heard from a narrator. And all seemed real, not forced. I believed it – I believed this could happen. M. Stein

Remembering ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, a high school reading assignment, was my first exposure to a graphically told war novel. Men died. The nameless battles didn’t matter. The day-to-day stasis was filled with the terror of an unexpected enemy charge or artillery attack. And, there not only was no victory but no respite after the war when the men came home and discovered they weren’t capable of returning to civilian life.

As Remarque, who was a veteran of the war, said in the introduction,  “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped (its) shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Current Amazon Description: Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive. “The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.” – The New York Times Book Review

From the Book: “He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.”

I believe such books as Hiroshima, Johnny Got His Gun, and All Quiet on the Western Front should be required reading in high school and college literature classes. Students should be assigned the feature film Saving Private Ryan to understand the absurdity of war and especially the “Pickett’s Charge” style assault of the allies at the Battle of Normandy that was (in spite of the casualties) considered a success.

I suspect few students read and discuss such books now. That leads to more people ignorant of war’s realities and, on this day, more deaths to remember. But, we have sanitized our classrooms, removing anything that might offend, scare, sicken, or bother our young people. All Quiet on the Western Front sickened me, brought nightmares, and made me a life-long pacifist. At the time, I hated the son of a bitch who assigned it to my class. Most people couldn’t finish it, glimpsing its plot through Cliff’s Notes, Monarch Notes, and stolen copies of exams. Now I think that son of a bitch did me a favor. I’m stronger for having a war story shoved in my face.

As the years go by, the military/civilian disconnect, as some have described the reason few people understand or celebrate Memorial Day properly, has grown because a smaller and smaller percentage of the population experiences military service. So, we have little or no association with the horrors of war, with losing friends and loved ones, or–if we serve and see battle–returning to civilian life less broken than the characters in Remarque’s novel.

I cannot claim this is all bad, but I think that those who serve our country in the military deserve more assistance and respect when they return–and a holiday more associated with honor and reverence and remembrance than as a day for shopping, barbecues, and cavorting at the beach.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the anti-war novel At Sea.


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