The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “conjure”

Friday is the day to buy this unique Kindle novel

On Sale for 99₵

Eulalie and Washerwoman









DescriptionTorreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord. Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman.

Review: “Despite the foundation of blatant inequality and disregard for human life this story centers around, Campbell has managed to infuse hope and humor into the reality of life. Authentic dialect spoken by the characters adds an additional layer of reality to the piece, embedding the reader directly into the danger and the action. This is without a doubt a unique and necessary blend of history and magic, delivered through a unique style of storytelling that will not disappoint.” – Elspeth Senz in Book Expo Review, June 2017, Issue #3.

Enjoy the novel!



Keep your research within your character’s knowledge base

When you write in the third person, your characters’ thoughts and actions are not only stated from the person’s point of view, but are also constrained by what that character can possibly know.

sixthjupiterbrassUnlike an omniscient narrator who can show what others are thinking, in third person, you can’t place your protagonist, let’s call him Jim, in a conversation with, say, Bob and in the middle of it show what Bob is thinking. Jim doesn’t know that. And in third person, you–as the author–can’t come in out of nowhere and tell the readers what Bob is thinking.

Likewise, main characters are a product of their time, their education, their skills, and their attitudes. If a character suddenly knows something outside of their realm of experience, it’s disconcerting. Sometimes when this happens, critics and reviewers will say that the author is letting his or her research show. That could be showing off or maybe it took time to gather the research and so the author adds it to the book.

Here’s a short paragraph from my novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” In this 1950s story, Eulalie is a conjure woman who lives in the piney woods and who uses folk magic and herbs based on what her mother taught her. However, her cat is the one telling the story. Here’s the snippet: “We didn’t have long to wait. Eulalie brought the deacon’s chair out on the porch, aligned it carefully at the top of the steps and sat down in it with her hands in her lap. She was dressed for church, a dark floral pattern dress with a wide-brimmed hat perching at a jaunty tilt on top of her granny knot. She wore a brass pendant, the sixth pentacle of Jupiter, highly polished and drawing down the light that conjured the cross within circle into the sun.”


Pentacle of Jupiter Talisman

Diagram from Mathers' book

Diagram from Mathers’ book

Like many hoodoo practitioners, Eulalie believed strongly in talismans. Strange as it might seem, these talismans contained a lot of renaissance-era magic that one might not expect a backwoods conjure woman to know. However, curio catalogues and mail order houses did a brisk trade in ancient wisdom. They sold inexpensive tracts that basically told the benefits of old spells, Bible verses, and magic ascribed to Moses and Solomon. A lot of what was known came from materials that originated and/or were translated and edited by the well-known Hermetic organization The Golden Dawn.

While Eulalie could have easily sent off for a pewter or brass pendant such as the one shown in this post, she probably wouldn’t have had a copy of the Golden Dawn leader S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers’ The Key of Solomon. So here are the decisions I made about that paragraph–just as a sample of one writer’s way of looking at the information.

  1. I could have said “a mail order brass pendant,” but I think that would have cheapened the thing and made it less mysterious.
  2. While it’s likely Eulalie would know that the Hebrew names on the cross are the angels who govern the four elements (Seraph, Cherub, Tharsis, and Ariel), saying that would have made the paragraph longer and slowed down getting to the action that came after it. The same can be said about the verse in Hebrew around the edge from Psalm 22. Plus, mentioning it might give readers the idea she spoke Hebrew which, of course, she wouldn’t have.
  3. I definitely think having a statement in the scene about Mathers or the Golden Dawn or ritual magic from the renaissance could push on the readers’ notions about what an ancient 1950s conjure woman would know. Plus, if she had known it, she wouldn’t have said it here because she didn’t need to say it. That is, she believed the talisman would work without having to cite references for it.

This paragraph could have been handled many ways. However it was done, it needed to fit what Eulalie knew and would be likely to say or think during the scene. (For those who have read the book, Eulalie’s cat tells the story, but in general the readers see that when it comes to magic, the cat more or less knows what Eulalie knows, but would be even less likely than Eulalie to cite reference books.)


ewbookcover“Eulalie and Washerwoman,” published by Thomas-Jacob of Florida, is available in e-book, paperback and audiobook editions.



Thoughts about Gloria Naylor’s ‘Mama Day’

When I first started avoiding Mama Day, I had no idea Gloria Naylor would die a few months before I finally started reading her 1988 novel. I even avoided reading the reviews until after she was gone.

I didn’t read the book until finishing my two conjure woman novels because I was afraid it would influence my writing even in ways I might not consciously know. Had I known in 1988 that my conjure stories were farther out in the future than I expected, I might have been tempted to read Mama Day sooner. I’m glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t have forgotten a word of it.

mamadaypaperbackI’m impressed with the book, and yes, I would have been influenced by it because the story dives very deeply into the heart of conjure, African American women’s traditions, and into an idealized setting in Willow Springs and island off the east coast of Georgia which sits somewhat in the mythic past even though it’s a real place in the novel.

The writing is superb. A quote I’ve long known about (and which strengthened my resolve to delay reading the novel for so long) is: “She could walk through a lightning storm without being touched; grab a bolt of lightning in the palm of her hand; use the heat of lightning to start the kindling going under her medicine pot. She turned the moon into salve, the stars into swaddling cloth, and healed the wounds of every creature walking up on two or down on four.”

I agree with Rita Mae Brown’s comment from her Los Angeles Times review: “When you read ‘Mama Day,’ and surely you will read it, ‘surrender’ to it. Don’t worry about finding the plot. Let the plot find you. The different voices are beautifully realized, but Naylor’s technique can be a confusing one to read. Occasionally the narrator’s voice is not so cleanly, stylistically marked, and the reader must press on doggedly before knowing who is speaking, realizing that a plot is developing through these fragmented viewpoints.”

The point of view changes often, but that’s not the problem. Unlike many novels that name chapters or sections after the person whose point of view has taken center stage, Naylor simply adds an extra space between paragraphs and then starts off with somebody thinking and referring to “you” with few initial clues about who is thinking and who the “you” is they are thinking about.  A bold faced name before each section would have been a big help. Nonetheless, Brown calls the book a show off novel, adding that Naylor has a lot of show off.

The primary character Cocoa, has gone to New York to escape the confining nature of Willow Springs. I didn’t care for the New York sections nearly as much as the Willow Springs sections because they have no magic, even the expected magic of a non-genre novel’s man-woman romantic discovery of each other with no backstory of conjure. As was probably Naylor’s intent, they help sharply define the differences between the mainstream world and the magical world of tradition as well as the differences in the thought processes between a so-called modern African American man–Cocoa’s husband–and the men who live on the island.

Cocoa’s been living in two worlds, the New York of right now and the Willow Springs of her childhood and her visits home. The fact that a storm is heading for the island when Cocoa and George finally get there together and that the winds and tides might destroy the bridge linking it to the mainland is wonderfully symbolic on many levels.

Bharati Mukherjee, writing in the New York Times,  saw the New York scenes as problematic: Cocoa’s and George Andrews’ “courtship occurs all over Manhattan – in greasy diners, in three-star restaurants, in midtown offices, on subways – giving Ms. Naylor a chance to accommodate several set pieces. But she is less proficient in making the familiar wondrous than she is in making the wondrous familiar.”

I don’t exactly know how Naylor might have fixed this because the novel depends on George’s lack of understanding of Cocoa’s upbringing and how life is at Willow Springs for his reactions to Cocoa’s family and old friends when he finally meets them four years after the wedding. Had he understood, the star-crossed nature of the couple’s future would have had no foundation if it unfolded at all.

The novel draws themes and characters from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” my favorite play of his, and this adds elements of depth to the novel. I agree with Mukherjee when he says that in spite of a few flaws, “Gloria Naylor has written a big, strong, dense, admirable novel; spacious, sometimes a little drafty like all public monuments, designed to last and intended for many levels of use.”

Sadly, when she died last fall, Naylor was working on a sequel which–had she finished it–would have added a great amount of depth to the Willow Springs setting, the past history of Mama Day and her sister Abigail, and to the heritage which Cocoa inherited and will need to understand. Perhaps some day we will see the unfinished material. But, we don’t need to, because Mama Day stands strongly on its own and my hope is that it won’t be forgotten–as one obituary did–when Naylor’s works are listed and discussed.

If Mama Day were a real person, I would probably never meet her, but I could always wish I could stand in her family’s cemetery with her and learn how to listen to the voices most people never hear.



January 6th Book Sale – ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

If the King Curio Catalog were still published today, perhaps it would feature Conjure Woman’s Cat, a curious but hard hitting novella about a north Florida conjure woman who uses spells and tricks to fight the KKK. The Kindle edition is on sale January 6th.


January 6th is variously known as Epiphany, Twelfth Night and Three Kings Day. Odd as it may seem, there is a strong connection between conjure and Christianity, with practitioners featuring Psalms and Saints in their work alongside spells and charms.

On Three Kings Day, conjure women would be protecting their houses with Three Kings Water and by writing the initials (C+M+B) of the kings in chalk on their doorsteps. They might also be making Three Kings Oil and Three Kings Incense.

I grew up in north Florida during the 1950s where this story is set and have tried very hard to convey the times, the racial turmoils, and the belief in folk magic in this story as closely as possible to the realities I saw. If you download the novella on Three Kings Day, you’ll save $3.00.

Then, lose yourself in another world for only 99 cents.



‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’ – Top Ten Ways You’ll Know If This Book is For You

KIndle cover 200x300“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.”

Top Ten Ways You’ll Know If This Book is For You

  1. Longleaf Pine

    Longleaf Pine

    You believe in magic, want to believe in magic, are researching magic for your own book, or want to know what magical people do when bad people are out to get them.

  2. You like stories about strong-willed people who love the blues and love the piney woods and love cats.
  3. You are a cat.
  4. You’re a conjure woman and want to see whether I included any real spells or just made them up by changing around the words of a bunch of Harry Potter spells.
  5. You like stories that don’t tell you everything at once and keep getting you pulled deeper and deeper into people’s lives so that you care about them so much you might just go nuts if they aren’t okay by the time you get to the end of the book.
  6. You feel the blues yourself on a lot of days and want to know how other people who feel the blues handle feeling the blues.
  7. Jook - Where you went for the blues, to dance the boogie woogie, have a few drinks and meet up with friends. - Wikipedia photo

    Jook – Where you went for the blues, to dance the boogie woogie, have a few drinks and meet up with friends. – Wikipedia photo

    You believe racism will sooner or later be stamped out, but are okay reading a 1950s-era story when things were worse than they are now.

  8. You’ve made a few mistakes in your life and see that since Eulalie, my conjure woman, drinks shine and chews scrap tobacco you want to consider taking up those habits if singing the blues like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe doesn’t take the shadows far enough way.
  9. You’ve always wanted to learn more about Tate’s Hell Forest and figure a book set not too far away from there will keep you from being bit by a snake there or, worse yet, losing your way and getting chased by panthers.
  10. You want to see if magic has the power to defeat the KKK.

Learn more on the book’s website.

‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’ – granny vs. the klan in Florida’s piney woods

Thomas-Jacob Publishing has released Conjure Woman’s Cat,  a novella by Malcolm R. Campbell (“The Sun Singer”), set in the 1950s Florida Panhandle world of blues, turpentine camps, root doctors, the KKK and a region of the state so far away from everywhere else that it’s often called “the other Florida” and “the forgotten coast.”

KIndle cover 200x300

Eulalie, who claims she’s older than dirt, has her work cut out for her when a local Black girl is raped by white boys behind the saw mill. The police don’t care and the KKK thinks it’s business as usual.

Click here to see the trailer.

Click here to see the trailer.

Can folk magic deliver real world justice? Can Eulalie escape from the weight of her own troubled past?

Click here for the book's website.

Click here for the book’s website.

Welcome to the author’s childhood world of longleaf pine forests, the mysteries of Tate’s Hell Forest, and the Jim Crow era when the sunshine of the Sunshine State left many dark shadows nobody wanted to talk about.


Conjure Woman’s Cat is available in e-book and paperback editions.

Many thanks to Jack Stollery for the wonderful cover art work.

Post Navigation