The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Dear Reader, you write half of every book

“I like to think of it as a kind of pact between the writer and the reader. The feeling that in each sentence, in each paragraph, the reader gets some beauty from the book in exchange for some darkness that grows in his mind. Or he gets some darkness from the book that obliges him to looks for some beauty in his surroundings. So there is this balance that keeps the reader awake because half of the story is actually happening in his mind. Rebecca Solnit says ‘a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,’ I love that feeling as a reader. And I am always trying to create this when I write.” – Samanta Schweblin (“Fever Dream”) in her Full Stop interview.

No, you don’t get half the royalties, so don’t ask.

But, dear reader, as writers, we give you a playing field for your imagination. We provide half a story, so to speak, and you fill in the blanks with whatever frightens you, arouses you, amuses you, or leads you to God.

Storytellers and readers have always shared the responsibility for the final work even though some writers don’t admit it and some readers chafe when asked to do too much.

When we’re feeling good–confident, perhaps–we don’t sell it out. We give you room to work, to explore, to discover what we can never tell you. When we were young and didn’t yet feel secure in our words, we tended to take more than our half of the bed. Later on, we stop hogging all the covers and write all the better for it.

Of course, if you’re feeling lazy, then you can go to the beach reading shelf and find something easy. That’s okay. We read books off that shelf, too. We do hope that, from time to time, you’ll grab your share of the imaginary world and show us what you can do with it.


Free Books: March 29 – four Kindle titles

The following books will be free on Kindle on Wednesday, March 29:

  • Waking Plain (short story) – An enchanted prince waits for the kiss of a beautiful princess to bring him out of a century of sleep. The problem: he ain’t no sleeping beauty.
  • At Sea (novel) in this sea story set during the Vietnam War, David Ward learns that people back home are often more troublesome than the enemy. Inspired by my service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
  • The Sun Singer (novel) Young Robert Adams goes to the mountains on a family vacation and then, via a mysterious cabin, enters an alternate universe where people are at war with their dangerous king. He’ll have to use his psychic abilities to survive.
  • Dream of Crows (short story) A man goes on a business trip to Florida and gets involved with a witch who wants him to risk his life to make love to her. When he returns home, he can’t quite remember what happened. Don’t read this one if you’re superstitious.

I hope you enjoy the books.


Book Bits: NEA, ‘The Shack,’ Greg Iles, ‘The Stranger in the Woods,’ Margaret Atwood

Even recovery from minor surgery involves a strange stew of painkillers, antibiotics, probiotics and pills with long names that nobody knows what they do. What they all do is create a listless and rather tedious reverie. I re-read “The House of the Spirits” and found out it wasn’t the book I remembered. (Item 3). Otherwise, here are a few other things than caught my attention–or seemed to catch it.

  1. NEWS: WRITERS RESPOND TO DEFUNDING THE NEA AND NEH: Postcards to Inspire a Movement to Save the Arts – “Writers and artists across the country have mobilized to voice their opposition to the cuts, and in solidarity with these movements, we asked writers to share the postcards they will be sending to their representatives to demand that the NEA and NEH remain funded. ” Literary Hub
  2. NEWS: iBooks Bestseller: Unshakeable ‘Shack’, by John Maher – “William P. Young’s The Shack stays at the top of the iBooks bestseller list as the film adaptation continues to screen in theaters nationwide.” See the top twenty list. Publishers Weekly.
  3. IDEAS: Re-reading a classic: ‘The House of the Spirits’, by Malcolm R. Campbell – Ever time we re-read a classic novel, it seems like a different book. Are the words changing on the pages? Malcolm’s Round Table
  4. REVIEW: THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS by Michael Finkel– “A journalist’s account of a Massachusetts man who went deep into the Maine woods to live a life of solitude and self-sufficiency … A thoughtful, honest, and poignant portrait.” Kirkus Reviews
  5. FILM: DOCTOR DOLITTLE HEADS BACK TO BIG SCREEN – “Generations of children have loved the story of a doctor who talks to animals, from the time that Hugh Lofting first started writing the Doctor Dolittle series from the trenches of the First World War in 1914-1918, when real news was too horrifying. The first book, The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed, was published in 1920 … Now word is that a new [film] version will head into production with Robert Downey Jr as the talented doctor.” January Magazine
  6. Iles

    INTERVIEW: Greg Iles, with Bruce Tierney – “Mississippi novelist Greg Iles’ bestselling Natchez Burning trilogy comes to a close with a gripping tale of revenge and dangerous family secrets … How does it feel to complete this 2,000-plus-page project? How did you celebrate?” Book Page

  7. QUOTATION: “A review of another author’s work carries a heavy responsibility, because you can’t–unfortunately–just make stuff up. Fiction’s task is to be plausible, but criticism’s task is to be accurate in fact, generous in appraisal, and considered in judgment. A real book is at stake, with a real person attached at the other end–most of the time–and every author knows how much work and anxiety have gone into a book–any book.” – Margaret Atwood from her acceptance speech upon receiving Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Book Critics Circle this month.

Book Bits, occasionally created on painkillers, is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of magical realism novels, including “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”


Review: ‘The Mermaid’s Sister’ by Carrie Anne Noble

The Mermaid's SisterThe Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a novel already has 2,842 reader reviews on Amazon, one has to ask whether adding his or her own two cents has any purpose. Nonetheless, here are several thoughts: This book is a gently told young adult fairy tale about a girl name Clara whose sister Maren is becoming a mermaid. The book’s compelling, if somewhat predictable adventure, is finding a way in a world of travel via horses and wagons of getting Maren to the sea before Maren dies outside of what is fast becoming her natural environment.

In this Amazon breakthrough Y/A novel of 2014 and Realm Award Winner for Best Speculative Fiction of the Year of 2016, “The Mermaid’s Sister” generally lives up to the promises such awards give to prospective readers. The novel’s inventive world is carefully and realistically built and presented in language that’s often quite charming and well focused.

If the book has a flaw, it is perhaps the need for a bit of streamlining during the opening chapters where some readers will see a little too much backstory about where the primary characters came from and what motivates them in the here and now. Even those stories are believable within the context and style of the novel; however, they delay the necessary rush to take Maren to the ocean. Readers who push through this somewhat of a slow start will be rewarded by adventures on the journey to the ocean and a satisfying conclusion .

As a debut novel, the book is well worth reading for its own sake and for the clues it provides for the novelist’s future stories.

View all my reviews


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, folktales, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal stories and novels.

Two Free Books Wednesday and Thursday

Mountain Song and its sequel At Sea will be free on Kindle March 8th and 9th, 2017.

Mountain SongDavid Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever? The novel is set in Glacier National Park Montana and in the Florida Panhandle

At SeaEven though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire. The novel is inspired by my service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War.




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.


Traipsing some malware with me

Once there was a spammer who camped in a wordpress
Under  the  glare of a forbidden 403
And he sang as he started his trigger words spinning
Who’ll come a traipsing some malware with me.

Who’ll come a traipsing some malware, my phishes
Who’ll come a traipsing delicious malware with me
Traipsing malware under the nose of old AVG
Who’ll come a traipsing sneaky malware with me.

Down came an old codger logging on from a home
Up jumped the spammer and stole from him with glee
And he muttered TTFN as he stowed him in his sucker bag
Who’ll come a traipsing McAfee-resistant bots with me.

Who’ll come a traipsing some malware, my phishes
Who’ll come a traipsing delicious malware with me
Traipsing malware under the nose of old AVG
Who’ll come a traipsing sneaky malware with me.

Down came a Joomla riding on his firewall
Down came the silent filters one two three
Whose is that codger you’ve got in the sucker bag
You’ll soon be eating your shell code with me.

But the spammer he up and jumped into Akismet queue
Drowning himself beneath the forbidden 403
And his ghost can be heard as it sings in the wordpress
Who’ll come a traipsing some malware with me.


When he’s not waltzing Matilda, Campbell writes contemporary fantasy, satire, and magical realism.


Writing: an essential task in a polarized world

Articles, essays, poetry and social media interactions suggest that a seemingly infinite number of people feel ground down by the recent Presidential campaign. The country appears more polarized about directions, methods and issues today than it did with the election of George Bush. A quick look at such digests of literary happenings as the news and links of Poets & Writers and Literary Hub, has–since the election–shown more politically oriented stories than usual.

George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) said in an interview in the March/April edition of Poets & Writers Magazine that, “It’s a tremendous literary mission to ask, ‘Can we re-imagine our country?’ It’s going to take some legwork, and it’s going to take some curiosity, which is in short supply these days. But I think for writers, it’s actually an exciting time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life that writing was a more essential task.”

What do we write? Facts and inspiration, I would say. That’s important whether one supported Clinton or Trump or Sanders. A lot of the legwork Saunders mentions is going to be digging up the facts. Some are calling this the post-truth era. For writers, like everyone else, weeding out the lies and slanted material is a large part of the legwork we need to do.

I’m appalled by the number of people on Facebook, for example, who read and listen only to the news they agree with and/or who presume without doing their own fact checking that their favorite essayist or commentator is always presenting objective information that fairly considers all sides of an issue. As writers, we not only need to fight this assumption, this outright laziness, but we need to prove to those who read our material that we’re as honest as we know how to be.

The inspiration  comes from not only addressing changes in the political focus and philosophy we consider negative, but in speaking well of those we like. The election and inauguration represent a fairly large change–or so it appears–in how we, as Americans, are being asked to view out country, what it stands for, and how it will operate within its borders and on the world stage.

Inspiration–like a good newspaper editorial or magazine essay–starts with facts. This concept was one of the hardest ideas for me to get across to students when I taught college journalism courses. Many students thought that stating an opinion meant that one could say anything they wanted. Maybe in a bar, but not in a reasonable newspaper, book or blog post. Inspiration that doesn’t begin with the truth isn’t worth anything. Passionate writers often need to rein in their zeal and ask “can my fervor be supported in the light of day?”

It’s easy to be reactive, to read an editorial or a news story and scream “that just totally sucks.” But what good is this outrage if that’s as far as it goes? As writers, it’s essential, I think, to do better than that. I think that if we can take care in creating balanced, realistically functioning worlds for our fiction, then we can take the same amount of care in looking at the real world we have here and just how it needs to be viewed or re-imagined.

It’s also easy to see our personal circumstances as universal. In my journalism class, a student wrote an editorial against a specific make of car, proclaiming that it was a real lemon. His proof: his grandmother had one that never worked right. That’s not proof. It might make for an interesting human interest story, but such an editorial is not the way to fight against the perceived abuses of an company or an industry. We can do better than basing our “facts” and inspiration on personal anecdotal “evidence.”

The hard things are doing the legwork and analyzing how are personal feelings about the issues of the day stack up against the facts, the apparent majority attitudes, and true win-win approaches to making things better. Neither rational democracy or rational writing are easy. Doing better might be more exciting than we think. Goodness knows, doing better is more effective than slinging insults and preaching to the choir.



Announcing ‘Mountain Song,’ a novel about first love and flawed childhood

Mountain Song is now available on Kindle. This companion novel to At Sea tells the story of two college students, one of whom lives “next door” to Montana’s shining mountains and one of who lives “next door” to Florida’s Tate’s Hell Swamp. They meet during a flood that sweeps away almost everything that matters.

mountainsongAmazon Description: David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

Campbell, who grew up in north Florida, worked as a seasonal employee at a Glacier National Park while in college. His mountain climbing and hiking experiences would influence his fiction years later when he wrote The Sun Singer and Sarabande. Now, Mountain Song combines his love of the Florida Panhandle, where he set Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman, with his love for the Rocky Mountains into a story of prospective loss haunted by the conflicting realities of disparate worlds.




Research falls out of the sky from the strangest places

Writers never know when a fact’s going to be needed. So, we jot things down in notebooks and/or keep links in a DOC file.

adamI like looking at the wild sheet music covers on American Memory, the Library of Congress site filled with recordings, photographs and articles from long ago. There’s a lot of good stuff out there even though the search engine can use some work; by that I mean, stuff shows up in the list of hits that has nothing to do with the search terms.

Old sheet music had covers that don’t match today’s political correctness, music lovers’ styles and fads, or even the kind of music we like. That’s why they’re fun to look at.

Needless to say, when I saw the cover for “Why Adam Sinned,” a song written in 1904 by Alex Rogers and performed by Aida Overton Walker, I wanted to know why.

Due to copyright restrictions, I can’t reproduce the lyrics here, though you can find them elsewhere if you keep looking. But the why of it is this: He sinned because he didn’t have a mother to teach him right from wrong.

Now, since Eulalie–my African American conjure woman in “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman”–is also a singer and makes a lot of references to music, this “why” about Adam is perfect for her to say in a conversation about the good Lord. Who knows when and where I’ll use it, but sooner or later she just might tell the deacon something like this:

“‘It’s just like the song testified about: He didn’t have no Mammy to teach him right from wrong,’ said Eulalie.”


“‘It’s just like Aida Walker sang: He didn’t have no Mammy to teach him right from wrong,’ said Eulalie.”

The deacon probably won’t like hearing that, but she won’t care because she likes stirring things up.

Writers collect bits and pieces of stuff like some people save baseball cards or have rooms filled with old car parts or stuff from along the side of the road that might come in handy some day.

You just never know. . .


cwcBoth conjure woman novels are available in audiobook, e-book and paperback from major online booksellers; you can also ask your nearby bookstore to order them from their Ingram catalogue.

Post Navigation